Customer Reviews: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
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Showing 1-10 of 28 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on June 9, 2011
I expected to enjoy the book and learn some about the way we eat and should eat. Having already heard the "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." piece I figured it was up my alley. Unfortunately it lacks any semblance of rigor. If you are a "healthy" eater and want to read something to pat yourself on the back, then this is fine. If you actually want to learn something, this is not the book for you.

For example, he never discusses what an expert might say in opposition to his views. This will weaken any argument because it expects the read to just accept his opinion at face value, without any ability to evaluate the arguments himself. Pollan frequently characterizes the motivations of food scientists during the 60's, 70's and 80's as being useless or in the pocket of industry, so to speak, without ever discussing those scientists actual arguments or the basis for them. This is poor science writing and it's also a little unfair to strongly imply they lacked integrity and then move on without actually backing up that statement. He sites research on Organic foods being more nutritious as if it were a cold, hard fact despite most of that research having been called in to question and contradicted by other studies done in a less biased setting (the study he sites was done by the Organic food industry which obviously had a stake in the outcome). It would be one thing to contend that Organic is better because x, y and z (although that position isn't scientifically supported), but he should at least acknowledge that there is hardly a consensus on it... but he presents it as Truth.

The final of the 3 sections was less irritating to read because it was just his advise on how to shop and eat and it was not a place where he was "building his case." There were still some statements that I think overstepped themselves, but if I hadn't already been on edge from the poorly done prior sections they may not have bothered me.

He provides a long list of his sources at the end, but given that people are not going to go out and read dozens or hundreds of papers they don't do much to address the rigor issues. He only used 40 or so endnotes, and in general the statements that seemed to need them the most didn't have them.

I was very disappointed in this book. I'm a layperson and while reading it I kept thinking of studies that would have been a stronger foundation than what he tried to erect. Oh well.
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on May 26, 2013
I read samples of other books by Michael Pollan before selecting this one for purchase (after liking its sample, Thank You Amazon for providing samples to Kindle). Thus I have some context for what I say.

Much of this material is not original to this book and is just recycled (sometimes word-for-word) from other books. I know lots of authors tend to expand their corpus by this approach but frankly I think it's a cheap trick to get more sales.

That said, I also found the book went downhill after the first chapter (perhaps the most original part of the book). Like many others Pollan is what I label a "nutrition scold", someone with all the answers (and almost no science and a lack of understanding of what is really in studies if you read the original sources). Pollan merely presents his biases (largely garnered from the elite food scene in Berkeley, esp. Chez Panisse, the ultimate expense account restaurant for the rich, not us ordinary foodies).

Interestingly Pollan spends a long time defining and then debunking "nutritionism" and then promptly turns around (for his rant on Omega-3s) and does exactly what he criticizes others for doing, that is, focusing on a single chemical instead of whole food or even entire diet. And then to the extent he pushes the idea of "food" (vs nutrients) he falls into the mysticism of the magical unseen, unmeasured, yet believed to be there, features of "whole food". Now food is complex, human digestion is complex, and human metabolism is even more complex, so focus on a single nutrient is a very limited POV, but believing there is something magic about food that can't be measured is just faith-based view of reality. And did I mention the ample supply of attitude? Of course local and organic are also somehow magic and food supplies from big agribusiness is evil - this is all too simplistic. Local is fine, organic is fine, but this all smacks of some new-age political POV rather than science.

Parts of the writing are entertaining and other all I don't even disagree with much of the book (except the magic attributed to certain unpopular and untasty foods) so the book, if you just read this one, is not a bad read if it were just more facts and less editorial opinion,.
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on June 18, 2014
This was my first Pollan book. I've seen and read interviews with him, so I was expecting good things, but I thought the book was pretty bad. First off, apart from the content, I think the book was poorly written. It was extremely repetitive and also jumped around too much. With respect to the substance, I honestly have a hard time trying to summarize what this book was about. Perhaps it's because I read the book on the subway over the span of a few weeks, but the book just seemed to be all over the place. The author notes in the acknowledgements section at the end of the book that this book was spurred on by an article that he wrote a few years ago. I didn't read the original article, but I think a long article is all that is necessary to convey the message of the book. It felt forced to me, like he was trying to fill space when all that was needed was less than 50 pages max. My views apparently are in the minority here on Amazon, and I was looking forward to reading the Omnivore's Dilemma, but if that book is similar to this one, I think I'm going to pass.
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on December 3, 2008
This is a great book, though I expect most who will read it have already read Pollan's earlier books, and therefore will have already absorbed most of this information. I look forward to some fresh insights, or a new direction in his next book, as he has pretty much beaten the whole foods, anti-corn-and-soy dogma to death.

This review is not actually about the book, but about the Audio Book. Do yourself a favor and DO NOT listen to it if you ever want to read another book by Michael Pollan. The reader, Scott Brick, is really awful. He takes "preachy" to a new level and does a great disservice to Pollan's research and writing. As a non-stop listener to public radio, I am familiar with the sound of Pollan's voice, and of his collegial, didactic tone. I spent the whole time I listened to this book gritting my teeth and wishing Pollan had read it himself (perhaps he's too busy peddling himself on public radio?) instead of shunting it off to Scott Brick. Brick sounds like a second-rate local theater actor with aspirations toward Shakespeare, turning (soft) journalism into high drama. His tone is antagonistic at best, and just overall condescending to the listener. If you'll excuse the pun, he will leave a bad taste in your mouth -- Brick is the corn syrup of audio book readers.
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on July 8, 2012
This is a good book for people unaware of largely available facts, neatly arranged, with a strong bias. The author's emphasis on 'real food' is nothing new and the disdain for 'manufactured food' is well known as well.

Don't get too enamoured by the author's love for the French food style. Foie gras is not real liver, it is liver cells unscrupulously and inhumanely inflated with fat. You're eating pure fat, not liver; the ducks were stuffed with fat from their beaks and were not (as we know) allowed to regurgitate, by putting rubber bands around their neck. The ducks get sick with 'fatty liver' and are killed for their enormously huge, pale, fatty liver. Red wine may help with cardiovascular disease but it (as all alcohols do) causes oral, esophageal amd gastic cancer. Upto four drinks a day are OK? Are you kidding?

Indian food or the Indian eating habit is not so great. Forty percent of Indians are either type 2 diabetics or prone to it. The Indians living in South Africa (where a study was conducted) has the highest incidence of Type 2 diabetes in the world. Indian food is disproportionately high in carbos and Indian 'sweets' reek sugar.

The author's much disdained Western diet is not ALL bad. Cook it yourself with materials from scratch and eat moderately. Stay away from refined sugars and alcohol. Even manufactured food is OK, once in a while. How else can you eat bread ("Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients")? Make it yourself? Can you, today, find a store-bought bread with less than five ingredients?

In the end it proves that it is impossible to write about food without being a reductionist or bias. But this still remains a good book. There is NOTHING new here for many of us who regularly read or listen.
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on January 25, 2013
I recently took over teaching a course that had this book on its reading list. I found I had to debunk the book more than teach it.

Pollan seems not to know the difference between science and pseudo-science, good science and bad science, science and ideology. He regularly uses these words as if they were interchangeable.

He creates a straw man--scientists just sit around studying single nutrients without a care for the larger food, damned reductionists that they are--then proceeds to dismantle this false view of the scientific enterprise.

In virtually a single page, he will sneer at those stupid scientists who are all to blame for bogus ideologies such as the debunked lipids hypothesis, then turn around and blithely cite scientific papers in order to show how unscientific the lipids hypothesis was to begin with.

Science is self-correcting, but all Michael Pollan can do it laugh.
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on March 11, 2010
I was looking forward to this book, but ended up being disappointed and reselling my copy. I've been reading a number of food science books lately, and I was surprised to see that In Defense of Food mostly just references works I had already read, without bringing much new to the table. If this is your first book on the subject it might be a good primer, but if you've read T. Colin Campbell or Joel Fuhrman you can pass.
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on April 26, 2016
This book was written by a journalist and would have been suitable for a magazine feature if it was five pages long. The rest is repetition and bluster. After telling you to eat whole foods he ends up recommending taking vitamin and mineral supplements as well as fish oil after the age of fifty. It's meant for people who don't think and need to be told constantly what to do and how to do it
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on October 3, 2014
Very disappointing compared with Botany of Desire. I listened to the audio book, and it felt like a very long harangue. The strengths of Botany were the compelling histories of the plants and people involved. In Defense of Food was instead a long critique of nutritionism, with none of the lively "objective correlative " of the details of food and plants. I've found Weight Watcher lectures more interesting and frankly with more useful information. Maybe this content from '08 has been rehashed in women's magazines since then, but most of this seems "old hat" to me today.
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on December 9, 2012
I previously purchased "Food Rules", and this was just a long-winded rehash of his MUCH BETTER , much shorter version. Food Rules was a fast read with eye-opening information and lots of common sense. In Defense of Food was a difficult, convoluted, footnote and quote filled, boring book. I would recommend just buying Food Rules.
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