Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Defense of Food Book Review

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having first read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and then The Botany of Desire, I was in awe. To produce all that research, to go out in the field for interviews and first-hand experience, and then to orchestrate it all in such objective and eloquent prose—that was superhuman! And I became a humble worshipper.

Pollan’s newest work In Defense of Food is another such brilliant creation. He first talks about nutritionism, which is the reduction of foods into their constituent parts: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins (which weren’t “discovered” until 1912!). Pollan next sets his sites on Industry (yes, with a capital “I”), and how Industry has used the science of nutritionism to commodify their products. And—not only did—does—Industry use scientific research, it also funds it, so that you have the cereal Industry touting their cholesterol-reducing effects or the pork Industry announcing it’s “the other white meat.” Then you have the diet Industry selling the Atkins diet one year and the McDougall Program the next. While he is not in any way opposed to science, Michael Pollan suggests that we have become dependent upon the “experts” to tell us what food is made of. Good nutrients? Bad nutrients? Pollan posits that thinking about food out of context disempowers the eater.

And so, in the final section of the book, Pollan aims to re-contextualize those nutrients back into what we all can recognize as food. He provides suggestions that will help us re-establish a relationship to where food comes from, how it can be made into a meal and how that meal can sustain a community. He says:

1. DON’T EAT ANYTHING YOUR GREAT GRANDMOTHER WOULDN’T RECOGNIZE AS FOOD.
2. AVOID FOOD PRODUCTS CONTAINING INGREDIENTS THAT ARE A) UNFAMILIAR, B) UNPRONOUNCEABLE, C) MORE THAN FIVE IN NUMBER, OR THAT INCLUDE D) HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP.
3. AVOID FOOD PRODUCTS THAT MAKE HEALTH CLAIMS.
4. SHOP THE PERIPHERIES OF THE SUPERMARKET AND STAY OUT OF THE MIDDLE.
5. GET OUT OF THE SUPERMARKET WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
6. EAT MOSTLY PLANTS, ESPECIALLY LEAVES.
7. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT EATS TOO.
8. IF YOU HAVE THE SPACE, BUY A FREEZER.
9. EAT LIKE AN OMNIVORE.
10. EAT WELL-GROWN FOOD FROM HEALTHY SOILS.
11. EAT WILD FOODS WHEN YOU CAN.
12. BE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO TAKES SUPPLEMENTS.
13. EAT MORE LIKE THE FRENCH. OR THE ITALIANS. OR THE JAPANESE. OR THE INDIANS. OR THE GREEKS.
14. REGARD NONTRADITIONAL FOODS WITH SKEPTICISM.
15. DON’T LOOK FOR THE MAGIC BULLET IN THE TRADITIONAL DIET.
16. HAVE A GLASS OF WINE WITH DINNER.
17. PAY MORE, EAT LESS.
18. EAT MEALS.
19. DO ALL YOUR EATING AT A TABLE.
20. DON’T GET YOUR FUEL FROM THE SAME PLACE YOUR CAR DOES.
21. TRY NOT TO EAT ALONE.
22. CONSULT YOUR GUT.
23. EAT SLOWLY.
24. COOK AND, IF YOU CAN, PLANT A GARDEN.

In this last section, Pollan expounds upon each item and ties it into the previous sections’ how-tos and wherefores. Pollan does like to play with words, so this list may seem a little enigmatic. You’ll just have to read the book! Michael Pollan masterfully synthesizes information from a growing movement of people who are reclaiming their health and their lives.


View all my reviews.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting list of his. I was surprised to see him mention supplements.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Does that make you cringe, too? It seems incongruous. Ideally, I'd like to try to get all my nutrients from whole foods. I borrowed this from the library some time ago, so I can't go check on it for you, but if I remember right, he doesn't advocate to take supplements. He says be the "kind" of person who takes supplements. Like I said, his list is a little ambiguous, not meant to stand out of context of the book. Mon, don't let that deter you; it is a really good book. I highly recommend it.

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