But for the most part, Pollans reasoning about nutrition and research was pretty unsophisticated and uninformed. Pollan defends his right to provide nutrition advice because he speaks on the authority of tradition and common sense. The last part of the book has recommendations about how to eat and shop. Why would you shop the perimeter of the store if you are supposed to be eating mostly plant foods? Slowing down to cook and eat and enjoy food are good things, but there has to be room for a little bit of compromise and a sense of reality. I realize this isnt what this book is about, but Pollan knows, far better than most people, the true cost-- in terms of animal suffering and environmental destruction-- of animal food production. Pollans opening mantra-eat food, not too much, mostly plants-is good advice.
These hungry ghosts sound an awful lot like the modern American eater trapped in the unhealthy western diet demonized in Michael Pollans In Defense of Food: An Eaters Manifesto. Pollan argues that we eat way too much of the fake stuff, ignoring the foods that our bodies actually need. At a clipping pace, Pollan examines both the field of nutritional science and the industrialization of food to show the reader just how we got to our particular brand of hell. Instead of being hungry ghosts, Pollan tells us we can practice thoughtful consumption.
On the other hand, Pollan's rhetoric was definitely fast and loose in this book. I know he doesn't actually think science is intrinsically incapable of revealing truths about food, but his rhetoric definitely has an anti-scientific air that I can see fueling irrational zealotry. Pollan's most salient point: if you actually read a book called In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, then your food system is badly broken.
Just eat real food. As a dietitian, I agree that people should be able to figure out what to eat on their own. A balanced and varied diet of mostly veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins will meet your nutritional needs. Food marketers sell what people buy. Plus many people are looking for the quick, easy, and mindless route to healthy living so "special diets," "power foods," and "quickie solutions" sell. I sometimes joke with my dietitian friends that we could make some real money with a crazy diet book that only allows red foods to be eaten on Monday and orange foods on Tuesday. When I first saw the Special K diet commercials, I thought there was no way that anyone who eat mostly Special K all day. They liked it because they didn't have to think about what foods to eat. If what you're looking is more info on how crazy our food system is, try Marion Nestle's "Food Politics." If what you're looking for is more practical advice on a normal, balanced diet, try "Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy" or "Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less." And if you want to follow Michael Pollan's sage advice to cook more, start somewhere easy like "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian." Like Mollie Katzen very wisely said, regardless of your eating philosophy, we need to eat more veggies.
At the start, the idea seems simple: "Eat food. Pollan complicates that simple "eat food" mantra a lot. Which is not to say In Defense of Food is a complicated read. The problem is that the seemingly simple act of eating these days is more difficult than it used to be for our grandparents due to the food engineering/fiddling that's been happening the last few decades.
Pollan contends that Western society has replaced our relationship with food to a relationship with nutrition, to our great loss. What Pollan calls the Western diet is a disaster, replacing actual nutrition with a manufactured diet that loses much of the actual benefit that real food provides. One interesting thing Pollan notes is that in different parts of the world, people do quite well with various types of diets.
Michael Pollan is absolutely on to something with his central thesis; namely, that the American diet has been taken over by "edible foodlike substances" (ie, hyper-processed foods) and the American approach to health as it relates to eating has been taken over by "nutritionism" (ie, the idea that food is nothing more than the sum of its nutrient parts). are the inevitable result of this perverse relationship with food and eating.
Fantastic food, remarkable wines and delightful company if that isnt the definition of the good life, what possibly could be? Every review of this book needs to quote Pollans eating maxim, so lets get it over and done with now. Actually, the real advice is this book is eat what your Neolithic ancestors evolved to eat and do so in a way that makes eating it a culturally significant part of your life, and not just a way to stuff calories into your face. I know youll find this hard to believe, but real food actually used to spoil. This was because the nutrients in real food were so appealing and appetising to other creatures (even bacteria) that the time window when it could be eaten by us was remarkably narrow. And this is a much of the point of the eat food advice. The problem is that at some stage we decided that if you want to have a food industry you need to organise it in such a way that food doesnt spoil. We want food to be about things and not about relationships. I do need to quote this: What would happen if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship? His point being that food is often only good for us in a cultural context of relationships between real foods. Rather than obsessively looking for the thing that delivers the health benefit in fruit (and perhaps there is no thing), perhaps we would be better off looking at the fruit as a whole package, one which has evolved to both encourage us to eat it (as we can then transport the plants seeds) and to make us healthy in the process (so we will keep coming back to help transport more seeds). Variety of diet and a culture that loves food and prefers dining to merely eating. Seeds are easier to store and transport and so have taken over our culture which is obsessed with storing and transporting, but leaves have much more omega3 oils and our modern diet has meant a shift of the ratio of omega3 and omega6 in our bodies from about 1 to 3 a century ago to about 1 to 10 today. This is a fascinating book it might even change the way you eat it might even save your life, if nothing else, it might make you enjoy food again.
I am deeply ashamed, depressed, and embarrassed by the fact that such a book as Michael Pollans In Defense of Food need be written, much less published, critically acclaimed, and enjoyed by someone such as myself. Though Pollan does a very good job of taking the reader through nutritionisms never-ending oscillations of advice (fat is evil, cholesterol is evil, carbs are evil), one specific fact illuminates all we need to know: 30 years of nutritional advice have left us fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished. (Pollan advises to be wary of any product that has to advertise its health benefits. Shouldnt anything you put in your body be good for you?) Pollan eloquently and intelligently provides some rationale to this sick world of contemporary food consumption that is a nefarious web of collusion with straightforward advice: A whole food might be more than the sum of its nutrient parts. Mindful of the social and health effects of alcoholism, public health authorities are loath to recommend drinking, but the fact is that people who drink moderately and regularly live longer and suffer considerably less heart disease than teetotalers. And Pollan spends the final third of his book offering sensible solutions to combat the Chicken Littles of Nutritionism and the fallacies of Food Science that expand upon his basic thesis to Eat food.