In Unsafe At Any Meal, Dr. Renee Dufault argues that the standard American diet (also known, ironically, as the SAD) is behind many of the health crises we face today. A former environmental health officer for the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration, Dufault’s intimate understanding of the U.S. food regulatory system and its consequences for human health make her an ideal guide for understanding.
The American diet is, arguably, one of the worst in the world. When we dine out, we choose fast food, and even when we dine in we tend to choose microwave dinners or other processed foods. They’re cheap and delicious, but they’re also loaded with added salt, sugar, and fat. Not only is the SAD nutrient-deficient, but it’s also often contaminated with mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxic substances. The long-term impact of the standard American diet, Dufault argues, has been a spike in Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, diabetes, obesity, and a host of other ailments.
This is hardly an original thesis－the last decade has seen a surge of interest in food-conscious literature, from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to Michael Moss’ Salt Sugar Fat. But while those books focused primarily on the nutritional aspect of the SAD, Dufault emphasizes the role that mercury and other toxins play in human physiology.
The final chapters look at the corrosive relationship between government regulators and the food industry. Especially useful are her comparisons between the U.S. and European food agencies. While the EU has generally banned additives and ingredients that have not been proven safe, the U.S. had adopted what Dufault calls an “innocent until proven guilty approach,” allowing food manufacturers to essentially enlist the American public in large-scale experiments that determine the safety or danger of a given additive over the long term.
What is to be done? Dufault offers some useful tips for consumers interested in staying healthy. An important first step is cutting down on pesticide intake by buying more organic produce and rinsing non-organic produce under tap water before eating it. Eliminating or reducing added salt, fat, and sugars from your diet is also important. Instead, Dufault recommends a diet based primarily on fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables.
Drawing on government reports, public health data, and nonprofit research organizations (including her own, the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute), Unsafe At Any Meal is a clear and well-researched alarm bell. But anyone familiar with Pollan or Moss’ aforementioned work will probably find little new in Dufault’s book. Still, Unsafe At Any Meal is a solid introductory text to the many problems of the modern American food system.
~Richard Marcil for IndieReader