Kay's Reviews > In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
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Nov 30, 08

bookshelves: social-issues, food_wine, science, medical, health, nonfiction
Read in November, 2008

A gratifying -- if sometimes terrifying -- book to read. It confirmed what I'd long suspected of the food industry, but it also torpedoed some of my own cherished beliefs about what is healthy or unhealthy. It also takes aim at federal regulatory agencies and organizations such as the American Heart Association. Truly, it seems we've been duped -- albeit willingly.

This is a short book, and the abridged version I listened to was even shorter, but Pollan gets his point across quite succinctly. (I gather that these issues had been addressed in his previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma). Essentially, he connects the dots for us: there's not much profit to be made from (healthy) unprocessed foods, but a great deal to be made from (unhealthy) processed ones. A huge, multi-tentacled industry has been built from selling us the latter, selling us "food-like substances" that have been stripped of much of their healthful qualities. All this while the food industry trumpets that their latest product has more essential nutrients or is packed with this or that vitamin du jour. However, it seems that if we want to live longer, happier lives, we need to go back to earlier models of traditional eating, and not spend every waking hour worrying about which "nutrients" or "fats" we're consuming.

Pollan's analysis of how we can be both overfed and undernourished is impressive. What really hit home for me is the rise of obesity and diabetes, at a time when, ostensibly, Americans are more health conscious than ever. He's scathing in his treatment of nutritionists, and at times I felt he may have been overstating his case. But on the whole, I have to say he seemed remarkably level-headed, especially given the obvious maneuverings of the marketing and agricultural empires.

It became clear to me that not only was mass-produced and distributed food generally bad for the environment, but it's bad for us as well. This book strengthened my resolution to do more vegetable gardening and buy local as much as possible. It was a much-needed reminder to be skeptical about dietary claims and health fads of all stripes.

In closing, I have to mention that although I really disliked the reader for this book, Scott Brick (who narrated another book on the Great Influenza that I'd listened to this year), Pollan's writing was so focussed and interesting that I managed to completely ignore Brick's reading after an initial reaction of dismay. ("Oh no, it's HIM again!") Thumbs up for Pollan, big thumbs down for Brick, whose ludicrously overemphasized mannerisms will grate even the most tolerant listener.
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