I already mentioned that I was reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and that when I reviewed it the review would be positive. That’s because I freaking LOVE this book.
In Defense Of Food
It seems weird that such a book would have to be written. A defense of food? An eater’s manifesto? But the common sense contained in this book is all things that deep down we should know, and sometimes do know, but the knowledge has been lost or confused by the actions of the food industry and it’s marketing. The common sense it contains is desperately needed considering we our a nation of mostly overweight and obese people with an obsession with healthy eating (or health claims at least).
As he mentions in the first section, the author’s goal is to “help us reclaim our health and happiness as eaters.” The idea is that much of what we are now eating is not actually food and how we are eating it is not actually eating. This might seem like an absurd statement at first glance but the case is strongly made in the following pages of the book.
In the beginning Pollan gives away this main answer to the question of what we should do to be healthy: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He then follows that with three sections of the book including a in depth look at nutritionism, a study of the Western Diet and the diseases it causes, and a guide of how to overcome nutritionism and eat a healthy and sane diet.
Pollan makes the case that we have been harmed by the nutrition science and the food marketers. Basically nutrition science has been broken down so that they study nutrients, instead of whole foods, and those claims are of studies are often used by food marketers to sell processed foods. Overall we are left confused on what we should eat and how what we eat will affect our health. It’s not hard considering the fact that things like high fructose corn syrup and nutella have a advertising budget for commercials to convince you they are healthy. With the bombardment of messages about what is good and what is not, it’s easy to be confused. Certainly this is true, as even those of us who read and try to figure things out are left confused by the constant barrage of food studies telling us contradictory things. We try to eat “scientifically” following the advice of what nutrients to eat and when, instead of enjoying our food fully and as a whole.
In the second section of his book, Pollan makes the case that the Western diet is highly linked to the chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and more. He details the story of how we eat has changed radically since the industrialization of our food and that the diet we have now – high in processed foods and sugar; low in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains – makes people both sick and fat. He explains the four biggest changes to our traditional diets: from whole foods to refined, from complexity to simplicity (the loss of micronutrients in food because of the changes in growing it and processing it), from quality to quantity (most of which ending up as sugar, fats, and refined grains that lead to people being both overfed and undernourished), from leaves to seeds (the move away from having green plants at the base of the diet), from food culture to food science (relying on science to tell us how to eat instead of our culture and our bodies).
The best part of the book in my opinion is where the author explains that humans can be healthy on a number of very different traditional diets. It almost matters less about what you are eating and more that it’s a way of eating that sustained people for many years before our food changed. He proposes it is possible to escape the Western diet and it’s effects about a dozen personal rule for eating that improve both health and the pleasure of eating. The rules are not a diet; he doesn’t tell you what to eat. But with such a confusing food landscape to navigate he tries to give some guidance for a world where even whole foods have been tainted by the Western diet (animals raised on the Western diet change the meat and therefore what you are eating).
The basic rules of eating from In Defense of Food
Buy the book to read them in detail In Defense of Food
Eat food. Food defined.
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
- Avoid food products containing ingredients A) unfamiliar B) unpronounceable 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 your supermarket whenever possible. (CSA, farmer’s markets!)
Mostly plants. What to eat.
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
- You are what you eat eats too.
- If you have space buy a freezer.
- Eat like an omnivore.
- Eat well-grown foods 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. (Traditional food culture!)
- Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
- Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.
- Have a glass of wine with dinner.
Not too much. How to eat.
- Pay more, eat less.
- Eat meals.
- Do all of your eating at a table.
- Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
- Try not to eat alone.
- Consult your gut. (Full? Stop!)
- Eat slowly.
- Cook, and if you can, plant a garden.
Many of his policies and rules involve more work, time, and money to prepare the food you eat. He has a great point that sadly may go unnoticed in our fast food culture that has no time for anything.
Personally I’ve been taking more time and effort to prepare my food and I’ve found that it helps my enjoyment of it. I love the food I spent time on much more than anything I can buy prepared by someone else. It’s sad what we’ve done to food in our culture and personally I’m sick of it. In my own life I’ve slowly been moving toward eating like Pollan outlined in the last section of his book.
Get Michael Pollan’s Defense of Food
I completely recommend this book to … everyone. If you haven’t read it yet you should. Buy it on Amazon. Rent it from the library. Whatever. Just read it. Start thinking critically about the choices you are making with your food.
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (Kindle Edition)
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (Hardcover Edition)
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (Paperback Edition)
- In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (Audiobook CD)
What did you think of In Defense of Food? Do you follow those eating guidelines?