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1,677 of 1,722 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

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266 of 301 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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1,677 of 1,722 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., January 8, 2008
This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
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 read that processors don't make low-fat dairy products just by removing the fat. To restore the texture --- to make the drink "milky" --- they must add stuff, usually powdered milk. Did you know powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol, said to be worse for your arteries than plain old cholesterol? And that removing the fat makes it harder for your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that make milk a valuable food in the first place?

About chicken and beef: Readers of Pollan's previous book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma", know that "free range" refers to the chicken's access to grass, not whether it actually ventures out of its coop. And all cattle are "grass fed" until they get to the feedlot. The magic words for delightful beef are "grass finished" or "100% grass fed".

And about soy...but I dare to hope I have your attention by now. And that you don't want to be among the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight and the third of our citizens who are likely to develop type 2 diabetes before 2050. And maybe, while I have your eyes, you might be mightily agitated to learn that America spends $250 billion --- that's a quarter of the costs of the Iraq war --- each year in diet-related health care costs. And that our health care professionals seem far more interested in building an industry to treat diet-related diseases than they do in preventing them. And that the punch line of this story is as sick as it is simple: preventing diet-related disease is easy.

In just 200 pages (and 22 pages of notes and sources), "In Defense of Food" gives you a guided tour of 20th century food science, a history of "nutritionism" in America and a snapshot of the marriage of government and the food industry. And then it steps up to the reason most readers will buy it --- and if you care for your health and the health of your loved ones, this is a no-brainer one-click --- and presents a commonsense shopping-and-eating guide.

If you are up on your Pollan and your Nina Planck and your Barbara Kingsolver, you know the major points of the "real food" movement. But if you're new to this information or are disinclined to buy or read this book, let me lay Pollan's argument out for you:

-- High-fructose corn syrup is the devil's brew. Do yourself a favor and remove it from your diet. (If you have kids, here's a place to start: Heinz smartly offers an "organic" ketchup, made with sugar.)

-- Avoid any food product that makes health claims --- they mean it's probably not really food.

-- In a supermarket, don't shop in the center aisles. Avoid anything that can't rot, anything with an ingredient you can't pronounce.

-- "Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does."

-- "You are what you eat eats too." Most cows end their days on a diet of corn, unsold candy, their pulverized brothers and sisters --- yeah, you read that right --- and a pharmacy's worth of antibiotics. And they bestow that to you. Consider that the next time there's a sale on sirloin.

-- "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." By which Pollan means: Eat natural food, the kind your grandmother served (and not because she was so wise, but because the food industry had not yet learned that the big money was in processing, not harvesting). Use meat sparingly. Eat your greens, the leafier and more varied the better.

In short: Kiss the Western diet as we know it goodbye. Look to the cultures where people eat well and live long. Ignore the faddists and experts. Trust your gut. Literally.

In all this, Pollan insists that you have to save yourself. And he makes a good case why. Our government, he says, is so overwhelmed by the lobbying and marketing power of our processed food industry that the American diet is now 50% sugar in one form or another --- calories that provide "virtually nothing but energy." Our representatives are almost uniformly terrified to take on the food industry. And as for the medical profession, the key moment, Pollan writes, is when "doctors kick the fast-food franchises out of the hospital" --- don't hold your breath.

"You want to live, follow me." I loved it when Schwarzenegger said that in "Terminator." It matters much more when, in so many words, Michael Pollan delivers that same message in "In Defense of Food."
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395 of 409 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to Nature, February 22, 2008
This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
It is so good to read a book about nutrition that does not promote any new diet! The author's message is plain and simple: Go back to nature, eat wholesome foods, and don't bother with dieting. Don't overeat; instead eat slowly, and enjoy your meals - such notion has already been promoted by Mireille Guiliano in her bestseller "French Women Don't Get Fat".

Our curse is processed food. The dieting industry completely distorted our feeding process. Our desire to improve everything and to separate 'needed' ingredients from the 'unneeded' ones leads us to refining most of our food products. However, our artificially 'improved' food only seemingly has the same nutritious qualities as natural food. Artificial and natural foods have as little in common as silk roses with real ones.

Processed food is easily obtainable, doesn't require much work to prepare, and, unfortunately, it is often also addictive. At the same time it is full of calories with very small nutritional content.

Like "The Omnivore's Dilemma", Pollan's new book is indeed eye-opening. It makes us think twice about what we are going to put into our mouths the next time we eat. For more reading about the danger of refined foods I strongly recommend Can W e Live 150 - another book devoted to living in agreement with nature, and revealing the secrets of healthy diet.
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373 of 404 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We truly are what we eat . . . . . or don't eat, January 6, 2008
By 
Theodore A. Rushton (PHOENIX, Arizona United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
Americans are fat.

Who's to blame? The government. Ay, but there's the rub. If the government undoes its mischievous agricultural subsidies, voters in farm states will throw the rascals out of office. Look what happened to Sen. John McCain in Iowa because he wants to end ethanol subsidies. No politician can afford to be public spirited instead of self-centered. The cure is not in government.

Instead, an intelligent solution begins with this book. Pollan goes to the heart of the matter, which is the content of our food. Our consumer society is based on making attractive products. For food, this means added sugar or added fat.

To quote Pollan: ". . . we're eating a whole lot more, at least 300 more calories a day than we consumed in 1985. What kind of calories? Nearly a quarter of these additional calories come from added sugars (and most of that in the form of high-fructose corn syrup); roughly another quarter from added fat . . . "

These extra calories are from nutrient-deficient food. It began with refined flour in the 1870s which removed bran and wheat germ to produce long-lasting snowy white flour. Consumers loved it because flour no longer turned rancid, and it didn't become infected with bugs.

Okay. Why didn't bugs chomp down on this new flour? Quite simply because the nutrients, the bran, wheat germ, carotene, were gone. Pollan explains, ". . . this gorgeous white powder was nutritionally worthless, or nearly so. Much the same is now true for corn flour and white rice." Take a look at a package of white flour and count the additives that make up for the loss of natural ingredients. Then you'll understand the basic thrust of this book and its remedies.

How do refined carbohydrates affect us? They are implicated in several chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

This book outlines those problems and practical solutions to the lack of nutrients and excess of fat and sugar in our daily food. Quite simply, good health is often less a matter of miracle medicines than of common sense meals. Pollan outlines the problem and offers solutions, as indicated in a University of Minnesota study of natural ingredients in wheat which concluded, "This analysis suggests that something else in the whole grain protects against death."

Protects against death? Did that get your interest? If so, this book is truly a major step toward a much healthier lifestyle . . . . . merely by changing the foods you eat.

Try it. You'll like it.
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266 of 301 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good basic info, but lacks scientific rigor, April 18, 2009
By 
LifeboatB (Berkeley, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
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 contradictory ("don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize" but "eat tofu"--If your great-grandmother didn't come from Asia, it's doubtful she would recognize anything made of bean curd) and he tends to cite sources that he likes, rather than sources he's really investigated. For example, Pollan would never list a dairy-industry pamphlet as one of his sources, but he gleefully quotes some rather doubtful statements from an organic-food-industry pamphlet, and apparently didn't bother to ask even one secondary source to verify them. He writes a compelling essay showing that nutrition and dietary habits are incredibly difficult for scientists to study, and implies that any information based on nutritional studies is flawed, yet quotes certain studies as if they are somehow immune to this problem. Pollan maintains that the American government's health-education programs are a major cause of the obesity epidemic, yet the descriptions he gives of these programs don't match my memory of what was actually being taught at the time. And because he gives merely general endnotes, rather than specific footnotes, it's difficult to check where he got his information.

I also had a little trouble with Pollan's tone, which is strangely naive, and occasionally condescending. He seems overly impressed with some of his own statements, such as his claim that humans are the only animals that turn to experts to tell them what to eat. Even if one accepts that this is true, humans do a lot of things that animals don't do, and in many cases, we should be glad of it. (And as Paula Poundstone has pointed out, she has to tell her dog to get his head out of the garbage every day.)

I think Pollan is basically right that the American food industry would benefit from a major overhaul, and the suggestions he's making to the government would make us all healthier if they're implemented. But it's too bad that someone with generally sound ideas can't take a little more trouble with the details. Overall, if you read this book to learn how to eat healthier, you'll get some good tips, but take his "facts" with a grain of salt. This is definitely a book to be read, but it should be read critically.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Omnivore's Dilemma Updated In A Quick, Focused, Factual Form, January 4, 2008
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This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
I thought I'd discovered gold two years ago when I chanced upon Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" on the new-book shelf at my local library. I'm a health nut, and what Pollan had to say between the covers of that book was exactly what I'd been looking for. The message blew me away. I started telling all my friends, colleagues, and family about how phenomenal and groundbreaking the book was, and encouraging them to read it. I even went so far as to buy five hardbound copies to give out and loan. But in the end I don't believe I really made any serious converts. Plenty of people wanted to listen! Telling my friends and acquaintances about the content of Pollan's book made me a big hit in social situations, but I honestly don't think many people took the time to read the book or, more importantly, to change their eating habits.

But Michael Pollan's book did convert me. Over the last two years, I have changed my eating habits--not as much as I hoped I would, but significantly nonetheless. The problem is, as I am sure anyone else knows who has also tried to follow his path: eating healthy in modern, urban America is extremely difficult.

"Omnivore's Dilemma" went on to become a nationwide bestseller. Thanks in part to the stir that book caused, and the many newspaper articles and television programs that followed, there has been a small but noticeable difference in the availability of healthier, more naturally produced vegetables, fruits, meats, and fish in the area where I live. Merchants now appear to be very conscious of the fact that many buyers are eager to know how and where each batch of produce was grown; whether fish is wild or farm-raised; and whether meats, dairy products, and eggs come from range-, grass- or grain-fed animals. In our area, the local farmers' markets are thriving, and the supermarkets...well, they don't seem to be doing so well anymore. Instead there are a number of small health food chains opening up that seem to be robbing the supermarkets of a large portion of their business. People are starting to "vote with their forks." They are saying they want better quality food, and slowly, their voice is being heard.

When I heard that Pollan had a new book out--"In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto,"--I jumped at the chance to be one of the first to buy it. It is a small book, easy and quick to read. I finished it in one enjoyable afternoon. Frankly, there is not much in this new book that wasn't already covered in "Omnivore's Dilemma." However, what this new book accomplishes that the previous book did not, is to present the basic concepts--about what is wrong with the modern Western diet and what we can do to eat in a more healthy manner--in a far more concise and readable form. Gone are the stories, the humor, the horror, the amusing dialogue, and the semitravelogue--all that was, for me at least, very delightful--but it also made the book perhaps too long and chatty for some, especially those just seeking a quick, focused, factual read. This book will most certainly appeal to a wider audience. It reads more like a practical manual for the general public.

I was hoping this new book might give me some further clues. It did that, but not as much as I had hoped. Nevertheless, I am happy that I purchased it, and read it. The most important thing it did for me was to reinforce all the lessons I'd learned from "Omnivore's Dilemma," and to present them to me with more justifications and updated scientific findings.

Hopefully, "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" will go on to become another national bestseller, and in the process continue to spread Pollan's healthy food revolution. A "Manifesto" sounds serious and political and Pollan speaks in the book about people "voting with their forks." It must be working, because many of the folks in my neighborhood appear to be voting with their forks, and the local farmers, ranchers, and grocery people are listening. There is a small revolution stirring and perhaps this book will help move it along.

I recommend this book highly to all who have not yet read "The Omnivore's Dilemma," and to those that have, I recommend this book as an inspirational updated refresher course.
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119 of 139 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simply Not as Good as The Omnivore's Dilemma, January 6, 2008
By 
Samuel Sellers (Bainbridge Island, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
This was not a bad book, but the biggest problem I had with it was that it was too short (just over 200 pages of text in large typeface) and it often repeated points without elaborating on them in as much detail as I would have liked. Pollan goes back to the theme of "Nutritionism" throughout his book, and discusses how the interests of food scientists and manufacturers have aligned to create the food environment we have today. This is a very fascinating story, but he seems too narrowminded on the theme of nutritionism and how that has ruined our food system and doesn't detail other potential causes.

Other interests (such as the beef and dairy lobbies, which he briefly alludes to a couple times in the book) have also had a tremendous influence on the national diet. Moreover, the way we live our lives, busily, without time to eat, is a tremendous contributor to poor health that Pollan again only alludes to. Lifestyle is a huge part of the food culture that Pollan encourages, but he doesn't specify what elements of lifestyle are common in the most successful food cultures.

My other major bugaboo with the book was that he barely touched on the notion of vegetarian and vegan diets, which are becoming increasingly popular in the States. The question of whether these diets are safe and healthy was not mentioned much (about a paragraph or so) and some insight into these two movements would have been appreciated.

Overall, it's a quicker read than the Omnivore's Dilemma, but less detailed and with fewer eye-opening moments. A book that should be read, but I recommend you save your money and wait until the paperback edition is released.
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165 of 202 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing follow up to Omnivores Dilemma, April 14, 2008
By 
E. David Swan (Denver, Colorado USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
I'm a huge fan of the Omnivores Dilemma and recommended it to more people than any other book I've read so `In Defense of Food' had a lot to live up to but somewhere something what badly haywire.

American's are getting fatter and fatter with average life spans that are considerably out of sync with the wealth of our nation. `In Defense of Food' takes an outsiders view of nutrition in the U.S., throwing stones at the establishment including nutritionists, food manufacturers and the FDA. Michael Pollan's argument is that it is our very obsession with food that throws the system off and we need to just relax and enjoy food. It sounds like the same advice being expounded in the book about how French women are supposedly never fat. Unfortunately we can't relax because we are constantly bombarded with calorie dense foods specifically designed for massive consumption. The author's suggestion is to step back, avoid the processed foods and start spending more on `whole foods' and items purchased from local farmers markets.

The main emphasis in the book is on eating a `traditional' diet. Something great-grandmother might have created. The author blames `western diseases' on a `western diet' but it's hard to know what constitutes a western diet, after all, three of the countries he suggests emulating are France, Italy and Greece. Are they not western? American's are definitely growing fatter but if it's due to synthetic substances like Margarine, Crisco and Nutrasweet why have American waistlines continue to grow as these substances have grown decreasingly popular? And if eating natural food is the magic elixir why do I find overweight farmers at my local farmers market? Shouldn't they all be aglow with vitality living to 120?

My wife is from Malaysia and her fathers' parents consumed a very `traditional' Chinese diet all their lives and yet died in there early 60's. Her grandmother passed away from a stroke brought on by high blood pressure and her grandfather by a heart attack. The way Michael Pollan talks this doesn't sound possible. I would also say that for an author who insists on taking a holistic view of eating as opposed to a reductionist one he completely omits taking into account cultural lifestyles in people heaths. Perhaps it's the high quality health care system in France that makes the difference or perhaps not but the author never even considers anything but consumption.

The advice that Michael Pollan gives is sound but most of it is so simple that it could probably fit into a pamphlet rather than a 200 page book which may explain why the book seems to veer off into unnecessary directions. Eating more vegetables is always good advice and the author even admits that every hated nutritionist he's talked has offered exactly that advice so how exactly is Mr. Pollan different from nutritionists? He lambastes nutritionists for taking a reductionist view of nutrition but then goes on at length about maintaining a proper balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in your diet. Did great-grandmother worry about the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 in the food she served?

Morgan Spurlock of `Supersize Me' probably hit the nail right on the head. It's the amount of calories that American's eat that's doing us in. Avoiding synthetic foods is probably good advice but it's advice like avoiding swimming after eating a meal and not likely to make much of a change in your life. I lost 50 pounds last year and it had nothing to do with eating traditional meals or avoiding margarine. I reduced my intake of calorie dense food including soda and fast food. This is the kind of advice any nutritionist will give out.

What bothered me most about this book was how Michael Pollan went on the attack when none of his advice is that far off from what other nutritionists and dieticians are recommending. It's a decent book but lacks focus and has difficulty defining what he's talking about when he uses terms like `Western' and `Traditional' diets. Quite frankly, this book is more of just a subset of Omnivores Dilemma and if you've read that one you could probably skip this one.
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90 of 109 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Naked Lunch, March 31, 2008
This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
"In Defense of Food" is a fine book, cleverly written in clear and musical English, and I recommend it to everyone in the hope that the victuals of this benighted land eventually improve.

I go out of my way to obtain decent food, so I'm in agreement with Professor Pollan in much of what he has to say, but as to his central premise, that refined and manufactured food is poisonous to the degree that it is causing the present epidemic of obesity and diabetes -- not to mention all the other maladies he lists-- I remain skeptical.

Certainly there is nothing new about Professor Pollan's hypothesis. Admonitions about the deleterious properties of sugar have circulated for many years; Hitler was said to be a sugar addict, and there is a song of warning called "Poison Sugar" on the Holy Modal Rounders' 1978 album, Last Round

However, I am ancient enough to have lived in a time when the quality of food was even worse than that under which we suffer today. In the 1950s, no food package bore the label All-Natural or No Artificial Ingredients. Instead, food was marketed as being new and improved, modern, and scientifically advanced with secret ingredients such as Platformate. Unlike the culinary utopia that Professor Pollan depicts in those days, television advertising had ensnared American minds, and families were more likely to dine on what were then called TV Dinners (each of which came in an aluminum tray) rather than mother's home cooking. The standard lunch which children carried to school in their Roy Rodgers lunchboxes consisted of a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich on Wonder Bread®. If a child expressed hunger upon return from school, he or she would be encouraged to eat another such sandwich, because the jelly came in decorated glass tumblers which, when emptied, served as attractive tableware in which to serve Kool-Aid®, the standard drink of the day.

The "peanut butter" in these meals actually contained little that was derived from peanuts, but instead about 60% of the paste was hydrogenated cottonseed or corn oil (as were all foods made by the Corn Products Refining Company and the Union Starch Company). When children drank milk instead of sugar-water, it was often enhanced with Bosco® corn syrup. At my best friend's house, they used Similac® powdered milk, and before corn flakes came encrusted with sugar, it was common to sprinkle granulated sugar (a lidded sugar bowl was always kept at the center of the table) on one's cereal.

Bacon grease was saved in a jar that was kept in the ice box, but later Crisco® and Swift® shortening became more popular for frying. Everything, all cooking, was fried, and the remaining grease was saved like a precious substance. Hot dogs were even more popular than they are today, only then, the casings of these floor-sweepings from the abattoir were supplemented with non-meat extenders -- often cereal or starch byproducts.

Penny candy was sold, and after school, children would load up on it at the corner store. Penny candy was what one might consider to be on the fringe of food. For instance, a common candy was buttons of colored sugar stuck to a tape of paper. Another was tiny wax vials containing dyed (but not flavored) sugar water -- some kids even ate the paraffin wax. One which survives today is bubble gum. Can any of these things actually be considered food? Whatever the answer, many such substances were consumed.

The era of air freight and food transportation had not yet arrived, so it was the utopia of local food that Professor Pollan rhapsodizes over. Unfortunately, this meant that fresh produce was unavailable to most of the country for the winter months. During this time, canned fruits were popular -- all canned fruit having been packed "in heavy syrup."

In short, the American diet of the period (the postwar diet of Europe was far worse, and our family charitably sent canned goods and sugar to the old country) was exponentially worse than even the most egregious crimes against the palate Professor Pollan describes in this book. If refined sugar and the wrong type of fat and artificial food are so patently malefic to the human body, why is it that diabetes and obesity were as rare in those bygone days as appendicitis is today? Since we Americans --obedient as always to the orders of the all-seeing TV eye -- ate nothing but processed food swimming in cholesterol, sugar and number-10 red dye, how is it that any of us lived to tell of it? Why didn't Americans vanish from the face of the Earth leaving the ruins of supermarkets as a warning for future archeologists?

In fact, this worst of all imaginable diets seemed to exhibit no symptoms among the populace. Hyperactive Attention-Deficit Disorder had yet to appear in children. It may be argued that it was there, lurking, but hadn't yet been discovered, but to this I would suggest that it was kept in check by the power of fear. Anyone "acting-out" (as I believe it is now termed) in a classroom would be administered swift and cruelly-painful corporal punishment. Obesity was rare and rarer still in children, because most people were employed in manual labor, and in my city, there were no such things as school buses. For that matter, there were never any snow days. Even in those brutal winters --and this was in the era before Global Warming eliminated winter forever-- we were expected to be in school and on time every day. After school, boys spent most of their free time injuring each other.

On the other hand, in times past the wealthy few who could afford the type of diet Professor Pollan advocates -- unadulterated, minimally-processed, unpackaged, natural food in wide variety; fresh-picked produce and prime meats that had been fed on wild clover and fallen peaches; wines without sulfites -- such gourmands often developed gout (the cure for which was a diet of Jell-O® with the tiny marshmallows mixed in).

Upon casual consideration, Professor Pollan's call for a return to the "good ol' days" is admirable, but for those of us so unfortunate as to have been born before the advent of such food messiahs, how is it that we apparently thrived? Actually, Professor Pollan is but one of a long line of food prophets foretelling our doom if we don't repent, and as with all the others, he's getting rich doing so.

There's the real lesson!
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want health?, January 4, 2008
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This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
". . . no people on earth worry more about the health consequences of their food choices than we American do--and no people suffer from as many diet-related health problems."

What to do? Like so much today, food truth is hard to find. We can't trust government to tell us the truth because it is influenced by the industrial agriculture giants that produce most food. We certainly can't trust labels using "natural" to describe chemical agglomerations. And, frankly, we can't trust doctors because they are simply not educated about food. Nutritionists? Many are educated, but how do we learn their bias? And, can they overcome "the pitfalls of reductionism and overconfidence?"

I trust Michael Pollan. He has now written enough books regarding food that we know who and how he is. If he has a bias, it seems to be that he really gives a damn about we American consumers.

Pollan shows how, starting in 1977, government dietary decrees began to speak in terms of nutrients rather than specific foods. This was due to the pushback from the meat industry against the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. Senator George McGovern's committee had made the fatal mistake of suggesting that Americans should eat less red meat and fewer dairy products. Enter agribusiness lobbyists. And that changed the whole story of the Western Diet. "The Age of Nutritionism had arrived." No longer would certain foods be extolled; now we would be sold nutrients. No matter that these mysterious and unpronounceable ingredients might be manufactured rather than grown.

At the end of the day, and near the end of this most valuable book, is the suggestion: "Cook and, If You Can, Plant a Garden." I relate well to that. I was lucky--I grew up in a poor family that raised most of our food. The proof of the eating is that my parents long outlived their eight younger "buy it at the store" siblings; Dad died at 93 and Mother is still avidly gardening at 94.

If we can't raise food we can buy from small producers as close to us as possible--we can be locavores. The more we know about the people who produce what we put in our body the more we can trust our food-buying decisions. And when we buy food we vote our values. The shorter the distance from field to plate, the less oil is consumed. Win-win.

So buy from nearby growers. Buy from farmer's markets and CSAs. Spend more money on best-quality food and spend less money on health insurance. It's an essential choice.

I won't be a spoiler and tell you about the new and contradictory information about fats, cholesterol and heart disease. I won't bore you with the stories of how our present unhealthful dietary condition came to be and the many businesses and agencies who have created it. And I won't tell you what you should do, beyond this: read this book and act on the uncommon commonsense knowledge it gives you.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dining well, sustainably & sensibly, April 5, 2008
This review is from: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (Hardcover)
Dining well, sustainably & sensibly -- and healthily -- is not half the hardship that agribusiness, our globalised distribution systems, nuritionists, dieticians, 'health' products distributors, diet faddists and ecologists have made it appear: the clamour of conflicting interests has obscured the simplicities.

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.
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In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (Hardcover - 2008)
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