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

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
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's review
Jun 20, 09

Read in June, 2009

Why does food need a defense? Because, argues Michael Pollan, a preoccupation with nutrition has replaced our focus on food itself. Healthy products, the food industry insists, are determined by the presence or absence of particular ingredients, which of course have produced moving targets: "better than butter" (hello trans fats), "sugar free" (hello high fructose corn syrup), etc. Amazingly, more than 17,000 new "food products" are introduced each year, and the food industry of course tries desperately to convince us to eat those items in place of what our great-grandmothers would have recognized as real food. To take just one example, Pollan compares the list of ingredients in Granny's bread recipe (five in all) with a list found in a Sara Lee loaf (dozens, many of which are entirely unrecognizable and unpronounceable); the purpose of the extra stuff is mainly to appeal to our sweet-tooth and to promote shelf-life, not health. Ironically, products that advertise themselves as "healthy", seldom are. In contrast, one doesn't find fresh broccoli at the farmers' market sporting a "heart healthy" label. And as obesity runs rampant as a result of our consuming processed foods, "nutrition science" has conjured up a slew of competing and mutually contradictory diets, none of which seems to reverse the fattening of America.

Pollan's solution to our misplaced obsession with nutrients is nothing more than common sense: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." That's it in a nutshell, although Pollan's book is worthwhile for its well-written and sometimes entertaining exploration of this theme. It's a sad and remarkable fact that anyone should have to write (or read) a book in defense of sensible eating. But the state of American's diet in the 21st century has unfortunately created a significant market for this welcome volume.

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