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Last week I heard Michael Pollan speak at Strathmore. Known for his books The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual among others, Pollan is a leading expert on America’s eating habits and food industry. And I’ll be the first to tell you, I hope without sounding too school-girl crush about it: he’s a hero of mine.

It’s hard to make responsible food decisions every day for my family, and my reasons are the same trite ones as yours: my husband and I both work. Our commutes our long. We live in the suburbs, not on a working farm. We are tired and hungry and we love our shortcuts that make our lives a little more convenient. These are the reasons why I reread Pollan’s books, and I why I enjoyed his lecture so thoroughly, even though it didn’t say that much that I hadn’t already found in his written word.

Pollan divides our food culture into two categories: there is food; and there is edible food-like substance. He began his lecture by showing off some items he had just purchased at a local supermarket. He showed food products marketing themselves via health claims, like a ginger ale that boasts added green tea for antioxidants. He showed food product as novelty: a sandwich cookie that offered the wafers separate from the cream, allowing you, the consumer, to assemble your own sugary prize. And he held up the grand wonder of industrialized food: spray cheese. The audience laughed when he accidentally fumbled it and sent a small stream of orange graffiti into the front rows of the crowd. He didn’t even need to say anything more. Food shouldn’t be aerosolized.

And then Pollan held aloft the simple apple. It was a deep scarlet and glowed gently in the spotlight. “Eat food that doesn’t have a marketing budget,” he said. “Eat food.”

It’s such a simple concept, and yet so complicated in execution. My kids are pretty healthy eaters, despite my complaints about pickiness. But even with the good habits we work hard to instill and maintain, temptation is everywhere.

Someone in the audience asked Pollan to describe a typical day of his own diet. Pollan responded with a shrug and a laugh and a disclaimer: “well, first of all, travel days don’t count, right?” So nobody’s perfect.  But hearing him speak last week was solid motivation to try a little harder to stay away from all those edible food-like substances, and make sure to concentrate our calories on real food.

Um, that is, just as soon as I eat the last Butterfingers out of the Halloween candy. Nobody’s perfect, right?

Robin loves food and cooking and trying to do right by her family, even when it feels impossible and chocolate is everywhere. You can find her blogging at The Not-Ever-Still Life, or on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. You’d make her really happy if you left a comment describing your best tip for better eating.