In Defense of Food

photo.jpgI want everyone to go out and buy this book, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  Or if you aren't ready to buy after reading this blog post at least promise that you will read the article or watch the video linked at the end.  It is eye opening and you will not look at the supermarket, magazines, TV ads or the things you eat the same way again.  

This is from the back cover:

Food.  There's plenty of it around, and we all love to eat it.  So why should anyone need to defend it?  Because in the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion - most of what we're consuming today is no longer the product of nature but of food science.  The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.

The book is broken into three parts.  The first section talks about the rise of nutritionism. The fact that we don't talk about food anymore, but the science of food.  Trans-fat, low-fat, omega-3, vitamins, etc.  Just look at any food package near you and it probably has something similar splattered across the front.  And when food science finds another miracle vitamin or fat that is essential to our health?  It suddenly magically appears in all of those products.  Pollan calls them food-like substances because they are engineered to follow the current food trends.

The second section talks about the Western diet.  I'm sure you have heard it all before.  How people in far flung areas eat differently than we do and have less incidence of the diseases that are killing us in greater numbers.  And instead of looking at the diet as a whole, the scientists try to focus in on that one element (olive oil, red wine, b12!).  The difference is that a lot of those cultures eat food: unprocessed, fresh from the source food.  Pollan goes through the history of the Western diet and how we got where we are today (refining flour, changing from quality to an emphasis on quantity, moving from leaves to seeds).

The final section deals with how to escape the western diet.  Nothing extreme like moving to a tropical island and living off the land.  More common sense things.  Here are just a few:

Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (his example: GoGurt)

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 (I looked at the ingredient list on a loaf of bread and was surprised... it had 30+ things listed).

Avoid Food Products that Make Health Claims (the healthy food is sitting there quietly in the produce section without labels)

Shop the Peripheries of the Supermarket and stay out of the middle

Get out of the supermarket whenever possible (i.e. find your local farmer's markets and take advantage of them)

Eat Meals (no snacking)

Do all your eating at a table (the car is not a table and we are all guilty)


Now I am not normally one to read and endorse these type of books.  I tend to stay out of the lifestyle change section of the bookstore because I am cynical.  My eyes roll just by reading most of the titles.  This is different.  It feels more like common sense advice than some kind of manifesto (although manifesto is right there in the title).  I don't know how much I'm going to be able to change.  Vegetables have never been high on my list of favorites.  The thing is that I had already started little changes.  I had already recognized that I needed to slow down and think about what I was eating and how I was eating it in my New Year's Resolution post.  And of course there is the Cooking post.  For me I think this book just came along at the right time as an encouragement to keep going on the path that I had already tentatively started out on.  I imagine I will read it more than once and I encourage all of you to read it as well.  

If your interest is piqued start with the article that led to the book.  It is a long read, but definitely worth it. Or if you are a more visual/auditory person you can watch this video of the author speaking from CSPAN.

Thank you and Goodbye