>> Monday, May 25, 2009
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
In his previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan took a detailed look at the American diet, revealing that most of what we eat has its root in corn and oil, and that the organic label is not all it's purported to be. His book has been called a wake up call for the hungry and left many people asking, "Now what am I supposed to eat?"
In Defense of Food is Pollan's answer to that question, and the first three sentences of this book sum it up: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Those sentences describe Pollan's philosophy so concisely, you could almost get away with not reading the rest of the book. Almost.
The problem is that those statements need some explaining, so Pollan spends the next 200 pages fleshing out what he means when he says, "Eat food" (real food, not the processed food that makes up most of our diet), "Not too much" (focus on quality rather than quantity), "Mostly plants" (more leaves than seeds).
Pollan begins by ripping apart food science, or what he calls "nutritionism." He asserts that the method we use to analyze food (categorizing its parts into fats and carbohydrates, nutrients and micronutrients) is flawed, and as we as a culture have succumbed to the ideas of nutritionism, we've actually become less healthy, replacing much of the traditional foods our ancestors ate with food-like substances fortified with the supposedly essential nutrients.
Pollan suggests that rather than dividing foods into their various parts, we should focus on the whole food, eating more plant-based foods, eschewing processed foods, and enjoying food as a social and cultural action.
Pollan's ideas here are very similar to Nina Planck's Real Food, and both books could be summarized with the suggestion to eat more traditional foods. Pollan's book also had similar flaws to Planck's, particularly cherry-picking research to support ideas and overlooking lack of exercise as a huge factor in the Western diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease).
Nevertheless, I enjoyed Pollan's book more than Planck's because she focused so heavily on meat-eating. Pollan does not advocate a vegetarian diet (although he doesn't discount it), but instead he supports eating meat from pastured, healthy, well-treated animals.
Still, I thought a lot of this book was overly-wordy and repetitive, as if Pollan really didn't have much to say on the subject. And because of that, I think most people could skip the first two sections of the book and only read the last, where Pollan details his eating philosophy.
In fact, for those too busy to read this book, I'm going to go ahead and give you the Clif's Notes version. Here's what/how you should be eating:
- Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
- Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronouncable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup.
- Avoid food products that make health claims.
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
- Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
- You are what you eat eats too.
- If you have the space, buy a freezer.
- Eat like an omnivore.
- Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.
- Eat wild foods when you can.
- Be the kind of person who takes supplements.
- Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks.
- Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
- Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.
- Have a glass of wine with dinner.
- Pay more, eat less.
- Eat meals.
- Do all your eating at a table.
- Don't get your fuel from th same place your car does.
- Try not to eat alone.
- Consult your gut.
- Eat slowly.
- Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.
Next up on my reading list...Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough