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

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
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Jun 23, 09

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"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. But the advice isn't as straightforward as it sounds. As Pollan writes in his introduction, "That anyone should need to write a book advising people to ‘eat food’ could be taken as a measure of our alienation and confusion." You see, there was a time when humans knew how to eat well. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated, and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists—all of whom have much to gain from our dietary confusion. Today we face a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." These "edible foodlike substances" are often packaged with labels bearing health claims that are typically false or misleading. Indeed, real food has largely become supplanted by “nutrients” in the marketplace, and plain old eating has been usurped by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals.

Pollan knocks down some of the most fundamental tenets of nutritionism: that food is simply the sum of its parts, that the effects of individual nutrients can be scientifically measured, that the primary purpose of eating is to maintain health, and that eating requires expert advice. He affirms the joy of eating, suggesting that if we would pay more for better, well-grown food, but buy less of it, we'd benefit ourselves, our communities, and the environment at large. Taking a clear-eyed look at what science does and does not know about the links between diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about the question of what to eat that is informed by ecology and tradition. And in the third of the book’s three parts, Pollan offers up rules of thumb, guidelines for escaping the industrialized Western diet. They include:

• Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food
• Avoid food products that make health claims
• Be the kind of person who takes supplements
• Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism
• Pay more, eat less
• Try not to eat alone

In looking toward traditional diets the world over, as well as the foods our families—and regions—historically enjoyed, we can recover a more balanced, reasonable, and pleasurable approach to eating. Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we might start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives and enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy. After reading In Defense of Food, you may never shop, cook, or eat the same way again.
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