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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: reductionism

Reductionist?

Pollan carefully criticizes science throughout In Defense of Food. Primarily his criticism is of reductionism. Pollan points out that reductionism has led us to investigate the parts rather than the whole. We look at nutrients rather than whole foods when interested in the mechanics of health. I believe this is an important observation and one that probably ought to help us recognize that we must view eating as a complex system. It would probably be unwise, however, to view this important observation as a reason for a wholesale retreat from reductionism. Certainly, most of the arguments in favor of a whole foods diet and rejecting a processed diet in this text are based on reductionist claims. It is very difficult to investigate a mechanism without reductionist methodology. Perhaps Pollan is just suggesting we recognize the limits of reductionist methodology. It is important, however, to recognize the limits of correlations as well. It is impossible to compare the health of people who eat western foods with those that do not, because those people differ in many other ways as well. Even studies of those who ate a non-western diet and then adopted a western diet, are also studying a people who have adopted a western way of life as well. I do not doubt myself that diet is a key component in this correlation, but we must recognize the limits of the inquiry. Perhaps the best inquiries consider parts in context and draw on the strengths of several ways of knowing to answer questions. Pollan has done just this in, In Defense of Food. Thus, I am left with the impression that interdisciplinary collaboration rather than interdisciplinary criticism will have the most profound impact on the way we come to address the problems we face today.