In Defense of Food is Michael Pollan’s Eater’s Manifesto. I wish I could have devoured this book in one sitting. Alas, to quote my best friend, it was one that was read “in stolen moments”, a few minutes before class, a couple pages while waiting for the train… and so on. Something that should have taken a matter of hours was stretched, and took a month to complete. That said, this book is the best beach read. Light yet engaging.
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
The book explains how Americans have been consumed by the ideology of Nutritionism: basically a reductionist view of food solely focused on its nutrients and chemical constituents. These qualifiers allow for substances concocted in a lab to be labeled as food. This ideology also strips away some of the more important factors involving food: the way it can create pleasure, its culture and history, the aesthetics of food, and its ability to be a catalyst for sociality.
When emphasis is on quantifying the nutrients contained in foods any qualitative distinction between whole foods and processed foods is apt to disappear
Pollan takes an extreme approach against the ideology of nutritionism and walks a fine line when distinguishing it from nutritional science. Nutritionism is debilitating to the way we eat. However, nutritional science is an important aspect to understanding how best to nourish our bodies. A chapter on that would have appeased my nutritional nut tendencies. He does provide an excellent section on the Western Diet and the diseases of civilization. It beautifully illustrated why adherence to traditional diets is so beneficial.
The last section of the book focuses on the steps you can take to follow the manifesto. Here are some of my favorites:
- Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (example: Go-Gurt)
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. (the middle is where the processed food lives!!)
- You are what you eat eats too. (that roasted chicken that was fattened-up on a corn diet means you’re just basically eating corn. Go back to the pastures!)
- Try not to eat alone. (everything is better enjoyed with good company)
Ultimately if you’re looking for a simple guide on how to eat more real food and to grasp a general understanding of how our food system developed, this is the book for you. It’s focus is on the micro-level, on the individual. If, however, you’re looking for ways to you can contribute to changing the problems Pollan discusses in his book, read: Fair Food by Oren Hesterman.