1,590 of 1,629 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Care for your family? Want to live long and well? This is required reading.
What's better for you --- whole milk, 2% milk or skim?
Is a chicken labeled "free range" good enough to reassure you of its purity? How about "grass fed" beef?
What form of soy is best for you --- soy milk or tofu?
About milk: I'll bet most of you voted for reduced or non-fat. But if you'll turn to page 153 of "In Defense of Food," you'll...
Published on January 8, 2008 by Jesse Kornbluth
211 of 238 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good basic info, but lacks scientific rigor
Michael Pollan's book has some generally good advice about what to eat, and some fascinating/disturbing info about the American food industry, but I was continually frustrated by the author's weak attention to research. Pollan is a not a scientist, and doesn't seem to find it very important to ground his assertions with unimpeachable facts. His advice can sometimes be...
Published on April 18, 2009 by LifeboatB
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dining well, sustainably & sensibly,
Michael Pollan, approaching the issues with the perspective of an ethicist who also eats, cuts through the clamour only to discover that the soundest approach to eating, that goes furthest towards resolving all of our anxieties over food, from pollution to poverty-induced hunger, from health fears to ecological concerns, is to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.'
My own approach, having worried at this for some time has been to eat for flavour, freshness, variety and pleasure. If you do this, you will find that you come to favour local products for the right reasons, you don't over-eat if you eat for pleasure because you take time to eat and taste what you are eating; variety keeps food "interesting: and helps balance your diet because differnt foods go with different flavouring and cooking methods -- freshness enhances the flavour but also favours local sources and gives you a full dose of all the "nutritiments" that the health food industry prefers to identify, isolate, package into pills and market for a tidy profit. Just eat the food!
Pollan's advice is better than mine, and he takes it much further: his "eat food" advice rules out a lot of what you'll find on the shelves of supermarkets and health food shops: he rules out anything that is overly processed, does not rot or is marketed as a "health" product. He advises avoidance of products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or that include high-fructose corn syrup. These, he shows, are not "foods" in the real meaning of the word. "Avoid food products that make health claims," he says.
He urges abandonment of the "Western diet" by which he means the tendency to gorge on cheap meats, fats and sugars and over-processed food products: the core driving constituents of the "fast" food industry. "Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle," he advises. And "get out of the supermarket whenever possible."
We should be willing to pay more for more carefully selected "real" foods and be willing to spend more time preparing them so that our preparation makes them as enjoyable as possible. Plants, he points out, "especially leaves'" are really good for you. Cattle evolved eating grass; grass-fed beef is better food than beef from cattle raised on pellets made from boiled down offal and other "nutriment" sources best not dwelt upon. For one thing, it won't give you BSE. But "good" livestock, more naturally grass fed, also mean healthier arrays of fats in their meat, milk and and, if we're talking chickens, their eggs.
Michael Pollan recommends having a freezer, eating wild foods when possible, eating more like the Italians, French, Japanese or Indians: favour traditional over industrialised food processing methods. Respect cultural wisdom.
Pay more, eat less, he says. Eat meals instead of grazing; eat at tables, with company, with a glass of wine, eat slowly, cook your own food and, if possible, grow some of it.
All of Michael Pollan's advice to the diner is consistent with the sort of sustainable organic-based bioefficiency that needs to be applied to agriculture -- replacing petroleum-driven industrial efficiency, which has become unsustainable -- if we are to produce the food we could to end world hunger without destroying the environment.
Michael Pollan's is advice that, followed, will help to bring about a greatly needed revolution in food production, distribution, justice and sustainability.
This, his latest book, is a very accessible, clearly articulated call to enjoyment and personal liberation: a liberation that will open new realms of enjoyment -- enjoyment that, realised, is also a boon to the planet.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Defense of Food Science,
But the desire for white bread predated the invention of roller mills, as did processes for separating the starchy endosperm from the bran. In a recent paper in the Journal of Food Science, colleagues confirmed consumer preferences for refined over whole wheat bread. We make white bread because that's what people want.
Pollan erroneously believes that grains are refined to extend their shelf life by making them less nutritious to pests. However, refining was often initially done to remove anti-nutritional factors from plant foods, and to his credit, Pollan provides the example of soy processing to inactivate trypsin inhibitor. Cassava, the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food, is poisonous unless processed properly.
Pollan believes that we have an ancient evolutionary relationship with the seeds of grasses and fruits of plants. Anthropomorphically speaking, "I'll feed you if you spread around my genes." With the exception of succulent fruits, the co-evolution of plants and animals has been a struggle, with plants doing their best to evolve ever greater defense mechanisms to deter animals from eating them. Man has an ancient relationship with the plant genus Nicotiana, having been smoking it since 2000 B.C.E. Should we accept then that smoking is healthy?
It's ironic that the book's cover illustration is of lettuce, which we eat at a very young stage to avoid an abundance of bitter compounds produced by the plant as it matures. Pollan suggests we eat only those items that would be recognized as food by our great-great grandmother. Many of the plant foods my great-great-grandmother ate were made edible through selective breeding programs to detoxify them. The 14 or so thousand years since the Neolithic revolution is but a blink in evolutionary time. The co-evolution of plants and humans during this period has largely been directed by the later, as was so eloquently explained in Pollan's Botany of Desire.
The book certainly is a manifesto, and an upper-middle class one at that. Oh that we could all live in Northern California, where fresh fruits and vegetables are available locally and year round.
My great-great grandmother, and I suspect Mr. Pollan's too, survived the winter months mainly on stored root crops, lots of onions. With the invention of canning, generations from my great-grandmother to the present have "put up" more perishable fruits and vegetables to extend their seasons. But despite the provenance and the satisfaction one derives from it, home canning is hardly an option for many.
One non-food, as defined by Pollan, that my great-great grandmother certainly did not eat often or at all is chocolate in its present form. Perhaps I'm partial to this one as chocolate making is among my professional expertise. You see, chocolate is "refined" using steel roller mills, and despite cacao's ancient origins predating the Maya culture, solid eating chocolate is a "food-like substance" as defined by Pollan.
Pollan impugns scientific research suggesting cacao may have health benefits, referring sarcastically to the Mars Corporation's endowment of a faculty chair in "chocolate science" at the University of California-Davis, but readily accepts "abundant scientific evidence for the health benefits of alcohol." My biggest criticism of the book is Pollan's selective use of science to support his opinions.
Though critical of the methodology used in the Nurse's Health Study and the Women's Health Initiative, which involved over one hundred thousand women followed for eight years or more, Pollan accepts unquestioningly the science of Kerin O'Dea, who observed ten Australian aborigines for seven weeks. The apparent genius of the study was that when it was over, Dr. O'Dea had no idea what caused the improvements in the group's health, though Pollan readily accepts the diet-disease link, ignoring the possibility that an increase in physical exercise or even the placebo effect could have explained the short-term results. An alternative hypothesis is that the group's health improved because they gave up alcohol and ate foods mostly of animal origin, contrary to Pollan's dietary suggestions, but we will never know since "we can't extract from such a study precisely which component of the Western diet we need to adjust."
Along with the Neolithic revolution modern food preservation seems to have become man's second fall from grace. But with an expanding world population, food science will become increasingly important for better utilization of finite resources. That's why the World Food Prize selected Dr. Phil Nelson as its 2007 laureate.
The complexity of human-food interactions is undeniable, but the same science that led to the solution for deficiency diseases has also implicated trans fats in present maladies, and can contribute to improved health. Though he plays fast and loose with the science, Pollan's dietary advice - eat food, not too much, mostly plants - will probably do no harm. Thirty years ago, a food science instructor of mine needed only two words - variety and moderation - but added that two words hardly a book make (and they certainly cannot be sold for $21.95). However, for what it says about the profession, it's a book every food scientist should read.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our relationship with food, how it has changed,
But is that how nutrition really works? Pollan exposes many scientific mistakes that have been made since the mid 1800's. In our quest to isolate nutrients from their food, we ignore the reality that nutrition is as complex as a symphony orchestra. Rather than associating a health outcome as the result of including a nutrient in our diet, we are beginning to see that many health outcomes are due to the exclusion of another nutrient we have yet to identify! Heart disease is no longer linked to saturated fat in the diet but more likely due to the fact that the animals we eat no longer eat grass and the non-traditional use of grains.
Why with all of this science and information do we see an increase in chronic degenerative disease throughout the Western world? Could our approach be wrong? What should we do? After Pollan's in-depth look at the progression of medicine, government policy and the food industry over the past 150 years, he gives his solution. "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Sounds simple and it is. Something simple for a complex problem; that's refreshing! But, it's not easy. It requires more time and more money for less food but greater health.
Eat whole foods, traditional foods, avoid processed foods, buy from local producers, eat green (leaves) and eat foods (animals) that eat green. Eat wild foods, game and wild caught fish. Other than his omission of recommending lamb as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, his coverage of omega fatty acids, the latest nutrient `craze,' is one of the best I've seen.
Non-Western diets may be healthier not because of some `magic bullet' in these diets but because they eat more variety (our refined grain diet consists primarily of wheat, corn and soy), they don't snack, they prepare their whole food at home, they sit down together as a family to eat and most importantly... food is a tradition that they love and embrace. If we regarded food with that same joy, rather than fuss over its health consequences, we might even see a reversal in chronic degenerative disease. At the very least, we would once again have a healthy relationship with food.
A good companion book for Pollan's book is "Real Food" by Nina Plank.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life-Changing,
Pollan doesn't try to hide the premise of the book. He writes it on the cover: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. The reasoning and importance is why you read this book--not to learn a new fad diet.
Valuable tip from Pollan: Don't over-think eating. After reading this book, I had to keep reminding myself to not over-think the act of eating. Pollan gives the reader a lot to digest and it's crucial that we not over-think to the point that eating becomes a hassle or unpleasant. It is a cultural act and a delicious act. But that doesn't mean that we should be unhealthy either. This book serves as a guide to a healthier lifestyle for humans and the environment, but does not prescribe set dietary rules. And even though it is not a weight loss book by any stretch of the imagination, I think it will help people lose weight anyway (I can't imagine eating half the garbage I used to eat now that I know the truth).
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not without flaws,
Pros: Quick read, well written, interesting topic (I happen to agree with his main points), presents a nice overview of flaws in nutrition science, acknowledges that people's bodies are different (i.e. some folks can't digest lactase), nice resources section at the back.
Cons: While Pollan does provide sources, they are not linked to individual sentences in the book, just listed alphabetically by chapter, leaving the reader wondering where he specifically got some of the information he states. He states that his authority to write such a book is "tradition" and "common sense" which seems to me like saying "anyone could have written this book". Although he admits it in a later chapter, some of his prose smacks of the nutritionism that he rails against (i.e. he seems smitten by omega-3 acids). Uses "more on this later" frequently enough that it becomes annoying. Although he says he's just providing "suggestions" and that he doesn't want to tell people what to eat, I see little difference between the two.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best information on nutrition I've read in years,
I live in Australia so our situation is not quite as dire as the USA's: for example we don't have a corn lobby so the use of HFCS is much less common, and most of our cows and sheep still eat grass, not grain. I was flabbergasted by Pollan's revelation of just how much of the foodstuff sold in a US supermarket contains corn in some form or other. I've always avoided grain-fed meat on environmental grounds; now I know to also avoid it because this unnatural diet forces the animal's meat to be much higher in omega-6 than it's meant to be. Despite knowing quite well that "you are what you eat" and that cows and sheep aren't meant to eat grains, somehow I had failed to make the connection that this would have an inevitable effect on the nutritional makeup of the animal's flesh. That, to me, is the real power of this book - that it makes connections between numerous facts that I'd been individually aware of, but had failed to put together into a larger picture. Pollan does this for us.
Not that I'm complacent about Australia as our obesity rate is on par with the USA's. Today's newspaper had an article supporting Pollan's claim that the more nutritional claims a food makes, the less healthy in reality it is likely to be. More than half the food ads on tv that trumpeted nutritiional claims such as 'low fat' or 'high fibre' were for junk food ( [...])
Another reason I liked this book was that it put me onto some other very good books such as Wansink's "Mindless Eating" and Taubes' "Diet Delusion" (sold as "Good Calories, Bad Calories" in the US) neither of which I'd heard of but have found just as illuminating as "In Defense of Food". Pollan is generous in crediting other people's work, something a lot of authors fall short in.
The only reason I'm giving this 4 stars rather than 5 was because I found the final chapter on how to eat better somewhat slight compared to the preceding chapters. It's no news (to some of us) that agribusiness needs serious reform and I would've liked Pollan to discuss how this might be done instead of just saying it's needed. But I liked the way he pointed out that so many of us say we eat poorly because we can't afford to eat better, yet can find the money for a bigger tv or faster internet connection. In my experience a lot of people need to be reminded that they are indeed making a choice when they spend money on one thing rather than another.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Natural Foods and Against Nutritionism,
What if "western diseases" occur simply because people now live long enough to develop them? Pollard rejects this thinking, and presents evidence that a 70 year-old today is more likely to have diabetes or cancer than his counterpart a century ago. (p. 93)
Pollard notes that the Polish biochemist Casimir Funk discovered vitamins. In this book, he takes a middle view of them. He suggests taking supplements, but also warns that they may be ineffective when out of the context of their foods.
In fact, Pollard's warnings about "nutritionism" may be illustrated by one common natural food: "Milk through this lens is reduced to a suspension of protein, lactose, fats, and calcium in water, when it is entirely possible that the benefits, or for that matter the hazards, of drinking milk owe to entirely other factors (growth hormones?) or relationships between factors (fat-soluble vitamins and saturated fat?) that have been overlooked." (p. 31)
Pollard generally agrees with those who suggest that overconsumption of nutritionally-barren refined carbohydrates is harmful (p. 59, 112-113). However, he cautions that the scientific reductionism of low-carb thinking as the full answer should be avoided.
There is no single "natural diet". Evidently-healthy diets centered around seafood, meat, dairy products, and vegetarian products, have all been found worldwide (p. 97).
Although Pollard recommends the "Avoid eating anything that your great-grandma wouldn't recognize" rule, the "Don't eat anything incapable of rotting" rule, and the "Eat more vegetables rule", it may not be so simple. For one thing, farm vegetables may be short on nutrients because they had been bred for rapid growth, and because chemical fertilizers indirectly deplete nutrients (p. 115). In fact, the obesity in the west may be partly the result of the body attempting to accumulate enough nutrients through the overconsumption of low-nutrient foods (pp. 123-124).
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for Thought,
IN DEFENSE OF FOOD is divided into three parts: "The Age of Nutritionism" (which defines and explains what scientists have done with your food while you were dozing for a few decades on that "sugar high"); "The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization" (which convincingly connects the dots between the western diet science and Big Food have teamed up to give us and sickness); and "Getting Over Nutritionism" (which sets out a game plan for you to turn over a new leaf -- then eat it). If you know someone who would never in a million years pick up (much less finish) a book about something they'd rather eat than read, I would at least suggest they look over this third part, which is all of 61 pages.
If we have any chance against the one-two punch of Big Food and Big Pharma (one to make us sick, the other to offer nostrums to "heal" -- or not -- these sicknesses), then we should be educating ourselves by reading books like this. The science part might be a little dry, but the advice, such as don't eat a food that didn't exist when your great-grandmother ate, OR one that has more than five ingredients, OR one that has words you cannot pronounce among its ingredients, is sound enough.
Pollan even argues (against all odds) why we should be paying MORE for food, not less. For one, bad "food" is cheap because Big Food mass produces it and, in the case of corn and soybeans, our government subsidizes it. Good food (produce) is expensive -- but in the long run, you'll save money on all the health bills you'd be sure to accrue if you just ate blindly as Big Food would have you.
Clear and concise, IN DEFENSE OF FOOD is a call to the ramparts. Buy it, read it, live it. When you're kneeling in your new garden this summer, you'll be glad you did.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some Helpful, some questionable information,
I took literally 8 pages of notes while reading this book. Especially during the beginning chapters I was shaking my head and writing down things I disagreed with. Michael makes gross exaggerations to get across a point or simply says questionable things. However, I toughed it out as Michael has obviously done a LOT of research to compile this information. As I got through the first part, he becomes much more evenly balanced and provides quite a lot of helpful information.
For example, I agree with him that people should eat more natural foods, including vegetables, and stay away from over-processed foods. I agree that scientists learn information in stages - they might think "all fats are bad" until they realize that there are different types of fat. Our standard white flour has been so processed to make it long lasting that they've removed the nutrition from it. Our breeding has made foods "prettier" while simultaneously removing nutrition. An apple today has only 1/3rd the iron of an apple from 1940.
So these things are great to know. However, mixed in with this information are some things I disagree with. For example, Michael takes delight in talking about the French Paradox (that French people drinking wine and eating cream are healthy) and says it proves that western diets are bad. However, a key part of living the French lifestyle is that you walk around a lot - physical activity is a normal part of the day. To say it is "all about eating what you want to eat" is extremely short sighted.
Which brings me to another key complaint. He says - repeatedly - that people should just "eat what they want" without thinking about labels. He says that people who worry about fiber or omega-3s are the ones who eat badly. He says people who just "eat what they want to" end up eating well. What?? This is COMPLETELY opposite to my experience. I hear from hundreds of visitors a month who DO eat what they want and ended up extremely obese as a result. This is simply not true.
A corollary to Michael's "eat anything" theory is that "native menus" are always perfect. Only the Western diet is bad. However, I can easily name several cultures in which heavy people are quite prevalent. Also, a culture's menu is innately tied to its activity level! The pasta-rich Italian diet is created for hard working Italian farmers. If you are a desk worker and eat tons of heavy Italian pasta every day, you're going to get heavy. It's not that an "Italian Diet" is innately good or bad. However, if you eat the food, you need to also live the lifestyle's activity level to burn off the calorie levels.
There are MANY native diets which load in the calories with the assumption that you're a farmer toiling in the fields all day and you need those calories to live. If you take in those calories without being active, you are going to have serious issues.
Michael also insists that any food with a nutrition promo on its box is evil. If a food item says "contains lots of fiber!" you should avoid it. He in general is against any nutritional information being shown, apparently. Again this makes no sense at all to me. As much as he loves the "old days", people did get scurvy and other diseases back then. People were malnourished. If something has fiber in it, it's good to know!
I definitely agree with some of his summaries. He says we now eat 300 more calories/day than in 1985 and while we are generally overfed we are still undernourished. Our bodies crave more nutrients, so we eat more food, but since we're eating nutrient-poor food it doesn't satisfy the craving.
I just wish he could have made those good points without being so single-sighted in blasting "all Western food", praising "all Eastern food". In the same manner he blasts people who "focus on just vitamins" (rather than whole food categories) and then obsesses about omega-3s.
I do think it's a good idea to read this book. There is a lot of helpful information in it. Borrow it from a library perhaps. But take the information with a grain of salt. Separate the wheat from the chaff - just like he says to do with all food writers.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many good points, but not without flaws,
The second and third sections of the book were also fairly good, though I have reservations about some of his advice. After lambasting nutritional scientists for "reductionist science", i.e. concentrating on the positive and deleterious effects of individual nutrients on health rather than the effects of whole foods, he goes off on a tangent lamenting the lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the Western diet. He is acutely aware of this gaffe, as he briefly addresses it and others in the intro to the last third of the book, but gives little explanation as to why he concentrates on a single class of nutrients like this, after complaining about the same kind of thinking! Granted, the prevalence of fish in all (or nearly all) primitive diets lends credence to the assumption that various nutrients in fish are beneficial to the human diet, but it seems a bit absurd to concentrate just on omega-3s rather than the whole fish.
That would be my only major complaint about the book, though I do have a few minor nit-picks here and there as well. Overall, though, I think the dietary advice herein is both sound and simple. Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat. Get involved with a shorter food chain (e.g. farmer's markets or CSA) when you can, and be cautious about your consumption of overly processed foods, though I would add that the occasional indulgence is probably not all that detrimental to your health.
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In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (Paperback - April 28, 2009)