Ken-ichi's Reviews > In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
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's review
Jan 07, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: learning, snoot, food, eating

I am conflicted about this book. On the one hand, I agree with Pollan's thesis: food science has not served us well over the past 100 years, and we really should "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I believe that partially because of Pollan's arguments, and the revelatory reporting he did for The Omnivore's Dilemma, but mostly because I've studied biology, and have at least a limited idea of how complex human bodies and human food can be, and how evolution may not have prepared us for Twinkies.

On the other hand, Pollan's rhetoric was definitely fast and loose in this book. He's an amazingly mellifluous, persuasive writer, but some portions were just bad reporting. One example: in attempting to demonstrate the ills of the Western diet, he cites a study of Aboriginal Australians who suffered from a suite of Western diseases, then decided to leave town and return to a hunter/gatherer life in the bush. Their diseases disappeared and they became more healthy, and lo, Pollan blames the Western diet. What? There are more than a few confounding factors there, including amount of exercise, sleep, sunlight, air quality, mental health, etc. And this was after several cases in which Pollan critiqued nutritionists for falling victim to the same basic fallacy: correlation is not necessarily causation.

There are several other similar examples, many of which cite studies that may very well prove his points, but for which he doesn't cite enough of the evidence to be bulletproof.

The other main problem with this book, to which Pollan readily admits but doesn't resolve, is his simultaneous critique and reliance upon reductionist science. If food is so complex that we should despair of science's ability to explain it to us, why does he spend so long discussing the latest research praising the benefits of omega-3 fats? I know he doesn't actually think science is intrinsically incapable of revealing truths about food, but his rhetoric definitely has an anti-scientific air that I can see fueling irrational zealotry.

Overall, I really did enjoy most of the book. Well, Part III, in which he gets proscriptive. Pollan's most salient point: if you actually read a book called In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, then your food system is badly broken.

I think I'll look for an Orthorexics Anonymous group now...
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
January 7, 2008 – Shelved
January 30, 2008 – Shelved as: learning
January 30, 2008 – Shelved as: snoot
March 30, 2010 – Shelved as: food
March 30, 2010 – Shelved as: eating

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Jose Excellent review. Thank you .

message 2: by Fiona (new)

Fiona Good review, I dont think I'll read it, much rather re-read Anthony Bourdain's cookbooks :)

message 3: by Maitha (new) - added it

Maitha How can I read the book?

message 4: by Lea (new)

Lea Dokter "and how evolution may not have prepared us for Twinkies."
Brilliant review, thanks!

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