Book Report: In Defence of Food

I admit it: I’m way late to this party. Michael Pollen is kind of a big name in the food activist (for lack of a better term) circles, and I only just got around to reading one of his books.

I started with In Defence of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which was published waaaaay back in 2008, because it was available first at my local library. In it, Pollan explains his food mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” which is fairly similar to my personal food mantra: “Eat food. Like, real food. [heavy exasperated sigh when people ask what, specifically, I mean] You know, fooooooooood.” But while I just keep repeating and elongating the word “food” and making increasingly emphatic hand gestures, Pollan actually takes the time to clearly describe what he means, making his argument far more convincing than mine. Because he’s a journalist by trade, and I’m a former dance major. Also because he’s a showoff.

Pollan begins by shedding light on the faulty science behind what he terms “nutritionism,” a reductionist approach to food, eating, and nutrition on which the entire Western diet is based. He suggests (rather convincingly, I might add) that fat and cholesterol in the diet do not cause higher rates of coronary disease, that, in fact, the lipid hypothesis is erroneous and unsubstantiated. He then goes on to suggest (again, rather convincingly) that studying the individual elements of a particular food ignores the more important interaction of the whole, leading to fads (low fat! more antioxidants! dha supplements!) that simply don’t work out of context.

In the remainder of the book, Pollan expounds on each of three main points. “Eat food” becomes a discussion on the difference between food and food-like substances. “Not too much,” obviously, focuses on quantity, serving sizes, etc. And “mostly plants” discusses the ratio of meat to plants. Which makes this an entirely unnecessary paragraph because you could’ve figured all that out for your own. Right then. Moving on.

The book, perhaps, goes on a bit too long (in that those three points described in the previous paragraph don’t really require much elaboration) but Pollan’s writing style somehow manages to be studious and conversational, so it’s hard to mind a few extra pages. And really, the book is pretty short and a quick read even at that. I found it informative and enjoyable enough to move his previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, to the top of my library queue.

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