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In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto [Paperback]

Michael Pollan
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (743 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Significant Seven, January 2008: Food is the one thing that Americans hate to love and, as it turns out, love to hate. What we want to eat has been ousted by the notion of what we should eat, and it's at this nexus of hunger and hang-up that Michael Pollan poses his most salient question: where is the food in our food? What follows in In Defense of Food is a series of wonderfully clear and thoughtful answers that help us omnivores navigate the nutritional minefield that's come to typify our food culture. Many processed foods vie for a spot in our grocery baskets, claiming to lower cholesterol, weight, glucose levels, you name it. Yet Pollan shows that these convenient "healthy" alternatives to whole foods are appallingly inconvenient: our health has a nation has only deteriorated since we started exiling carbs, fats--even fruits--from our daily meals. His razor-sharp analysis of the American diet (as well as its architects and its detractors) offers an inspiring glimpse of what it would be like if we could (a la Humpty Dumpty) put our food back together again and reconsider what it means to eat well. In a season filled with rallying cries to lose weight and be healthy, Pollan's call to action—"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."--is a program I actually want to follow. --Anne Bartholomew

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his hugely influential treatise The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan traced a direct line between the industrialization of our food supply and the degradation of the environment. His new book takes up where the previous work left off. Examining the question of what to eat from the perspective of health, this powerfully argued, thoroughly researched and elegant manifesto cuts straight to the chase with a maxim that is deceptively simple: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. But as Pollan explains, food in a country that is driven by a thirty-two billion-dollar marketing machine is both a loaded term and, in its purest sense, a holy grail. The first section of his three-part essay refutes the authority of the diet bullies, pointing up the confluence of interests among manufacturers of processed foods, marketers and nutritional scientists—a cabal whose nutritional advice has given rise to a notably unhealthy preoccupation with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthily. The second portion vivisects the Western diet, questioning, among other sacred cows, the idea that dietary fat leads to chronic illness. A writer of great subtlety, Pollan doesn't preach to the choir; in fact, rarely does he preach at all, preferring to lets the facts speak for themselves. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Berkeley, California-based journalism professor and New York Times Magazine contributing writer Michael Pollan, whose previous work on the subject includes The Botany of Desire and the best-selling The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has placed himself at the forefront of food writing. He preaches a back-to-basics approach and a close questioning of the avalanche of information that has come out of our diet-obsessed society. Despite the accusations of a few critics as being a little alarmist, a little elitist, and a little obvious (not everyone has the access to or the resources to eat the food Pollan suggests), the book encourages a simple approach to eating that will strike a chord with readers weary of conflicting information and unrealistic weight-loss and wellness programs. So the message of the book and its well-written delivery can’t be faulted. The question is, do we need to hear it all again?
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Expanding on a theme from his popular The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2007), Pollan mounts an assault on a reigning theory of the relationship between food and health. For Pollan, “nutritionism” offers too narrow a view of the role of eating, confining its benefits solely to food’s chemical constituents. This has resulted in an unnatural anxiety about the things we humans eat. To counteract this, Pollan appeals to tradition and common sense. The “Western diet,” with its focus on meat as the principal food, produces cardiovascular problems, and nutritionists’ attempts to correct this with a high-carbohydrate and sugar regimen has served only to spawn a generation of obese diabetics. Although Pollan doesn’t advocate eliminating meat or any other whole food, he wants to place vegetables and fruits in the center of things, reassigning meat to the status of a side dish. Given the continuing fascination with Pollan’s earlier work, this smaller tome will surely generate heavy demand. --Mark Knoblauch --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

" Michael Pollan [is the] designated repository for the nation's food conscience."
-Frank Bruni, The New York Times

" A remarkable volume . . . engrossing . . . [Pollan] offers those prescriptions Americans so desperately crave."
-The Washington Post

"A tough, witty, cogent rebuttal to the proposition that food can be redced to its nutritional components without the loss of something essential... [a] lively, invaluable book." --Janet Maslin, The New York TImes


" In Defense of Food is written with Pollan's customary bite, ringing clarity and brilliance at connecting the dots."
-The Seattle Times

About the Author

MICHAEL POLLAN is the author of six previous books, including Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire, all New York Times bestsellers. A longtime contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan is the recipient of the James Beard Award and is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley. In 2010, Time magazine named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world. His most recent book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, was published by The Penguin Press in April 2013.

www.michaelpollan.com
 

 

From The Washington Post

Reviewed by Jane Black

In his 2006 blockbuster, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan gave voice to Americans' deep anxiety about food: What should we eat? Where does our food come from? And, most important, why does it take an investigative journalist to answer what should be a relatively simple question?

In the hundreds of interviews Pollan gave following the book's publication, the question everyone, including me, asked him was: What do you eat? It was both a sincere attempt to elicit a commonsense prescription and, when it came from cynical East Coast journalists, a thinly veiled attempt to trap the author. "Oh! So he shops at farmers markets," we snipped enviously to one another. "Well, easy for him out there in Berkeley where they feast on peaches and cream in February! What about the rest of us?"

In Defense of Food is Pollan's answer: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

For some, that instruction will seem simple, even obvious. (It will seem especially so to those who read Pollan's lengthy essay on the same topic in the New York Times magazine last year.) But for most people, those seven little words are a declaration of war on the all-American dinner. Goodbye, 12-ounce steak. Instead, how about three ounces of wild-caught salmon served with roasted butternut squash and a heap of sautéed kale? For many, following the rules may not be so simple after all.

Yet in this slim, remarkable volume, Pollan builds a convincing case not only against that steak dinner but against the entire Western diet. Over the last half-century, Pollan argues, real food has started to disappear, replaced by processed foods designed to include nutrients. Those component parts, he says, are understood only by scientists and exploited by food marketers who thrive on introducing new products that hawk fiber, omega-3 fatty acids or whatever else happens to be in vogue.

Pollan calls it the age of "nutritionism," an era when nutrients have been elevated to ideology, resulting in epidemic rates of obesity, disease and orthorexia, a not yet official name for an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. "What we know is that people who eat the way we do in the West today suffer substantially higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity than people eating any number of different traditional diets," he writes. "When people come to the West and adopt our way of eating, these diseases soon follow."

Part of Pollan's answer to improving our health is going back to traditional foods and ways of eating: Eat leaves, not seeds. Steer clear of any processed food with a health claim. And for goodness sake, don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

But equally important is changing the way we relate to food. Pollan argues that we've traded in our food culture -- a.k.a. eating what Mom says to eat -- for nutritionism, which puts experts in charge and makes the whole question of what to eat so confusing in the first place. Indeed, Pollan makes a strong case that the "French paradox" -- the way the French stay thin while gobbling triple crème cheese and foie gras -- isn't a paradox at all. The French have a different relationship with food. They eat small portions, don't come back for seconds and spend considerably more time enjoying their food -- an eminently sensible approach.

In Pollan's mind, trading quantity for quality and artificial nutrients for foods that give pleasure is the first step in redefining the way we think about food. The rules here: Pay more, eat less. Eat meals, not snacks. Cook your own meals and, if you can, plant a garden.

Each of the rules is well supported -- and only occasionally with the scientific mumbo-jumbo that Pollan disparages. But what makes Pollan's latest so engrossing is his tone: curious and patient as he explains the flaws in epidemiological studies that have buttressed nutritionism for 30 years, and entirely without condescension as he offers those prescriptions Americans so desperately crave.

That's no easy feat in a book of this kind. What should we eat? The answer is here. Now we just have to see if Americans are willing to follow good advice.


Copyright 2008, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From AudioFile

Scott Brick brings the necessary energy, pacing, and articulation to what promises to be one of this yearÕs most popular and provocative titles. His delivery of PollanÕs critique of what we eat is delivered with a heavier irony than readers might find on the page and misses some of this fine stylistÕs quieter tones. However, of all PollanÕs work, this particular title requires the most force and assurance, and the pacing of a skilled reader. PollanÕs denunciation of Òthe ideology of nutritionism,Ó packed with studies, names, theories, and suppositions, is food for two or three listenings. Brick carries this manifesto against nutrition science and food manufacturers with the voice of indictment--unflinching, unflagging, and fired by conviction. D.A.W. © AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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