E.H.'s Reviews > In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
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's review
Oct 01, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, theboxmarkeddone, read-for-school
Read in September, 2009

This book makes people like me (i.e., vegetarians who eat healthy diets) feel very smug, but that's not really the point. What concerns Pollan is to a large extent how people deal with the large amount of highly technical information surrounding what foods they should be eating, and the answer he comes up with is, "Badly." Americans are heavier than ever before and, though we're eating more, we're increasingly malnourished. To make matters worse, everywhere in the supermarket we're confronted by products that make health claims, like "Contains Omega-3s!" or "Good source of calcium!" These "food-like products" push the real food to the margins of the market and our lives: when a box of Froot Loops cereal can claim it's heart healthy (and it does), how can the humble apple compete?

The other day I was talking to a friend about nutrition, diet, and weight loss. She mentioned that when she craved cheese, she tried to figure out what she was craving - was it salt? Protein? And then just eat something to fill that craving.

In theory this is a good idea -listen to your body and eat what you want. But how do you know if you're craving protein? Pollan's point is that this obsession with macro (or micro)nutrients is getting in the way of our enjoyment of food and ultimately of our health. If you want cheese, eat some cheese. If you want a cup of coffee, have a cup of coffee. Just don't overdo it (as he says, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.")

Is this book the end of the discussion? Sadly, probably not - though perhaps it should be. While Pollan seems to occasionally fall victim to the very ideology of nutrition he criticizes (he seems a bit too enamored with the Omega-3 vs Omega-6 hypothesis), his advice is sound, usable, and unlikely to kill anyone - unlike many nationally advertised diet plans. In the end, a shift as he proposes to locally grown food, mostly plants, grown in high quality soils, would improve our health, our environment, and our culture. And the plants are delicious, too - not bad, for a cabbage.

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