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In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto Paperback – April 28, 2009
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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 Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Pollan provides another shocking yet essential treatise on the industrialized Western diet and its detrimental effects on our bodies and culture. Here he lays siege to the food industry and scientists' attempts to reduce food and the cultural practices of eating into bite-size concepts known as nutrients, and contemplates the follies of doing so. As an increasing number of Americans are overfed and undernourished, Pollan makes a strong argument for serious reconsideration of our eating habits and casts a suspicious eye on the food industry and its more pernicious and misleading practices. Listeners will undoubtedly find themselves reconsidering their own eating habits. Scott Brick, who narrated Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, carries forward the same tone and consistency, thus creating a narrative continuity between the two books. Brick renders the text with an expert's skill, delivering well-timed pauses and accurate emphasis. He executes Pollan's asides and sarcasm with an uncanny ability that makes listening infinitely better than reading. So compelling is his tone, listeners may have trouble discerning whether Brick's conviction or talent drives his powerful performance.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top customer reviews
Five weeks eating 3 meals a day...and by week two much of the chronic 24 hour a day pain was gone and I began walking the elliptical and the woods. Five weeks and 30 pounds lighter....with more energy than I've had in 20 years. Buy this book, learn it, live it, tell your loved ones.
It almost is as if the corporate food processors are living in a 1950s mindset where a diet wholly consisting of manufactured food, processed beyond recognition and predigested, would be a good thing, freeing us up from the onerous slog of picking, washing, chopping, storing, and cooking.
I hope as many people as possible read this and/or consider carefully what they are ingesting and where it came from and how it got there. It's not really a sexy fun thing to do, but so necessary.
Pollan writes: "In the case of nutritionalism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. Put another way: Foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts." As an example of nutritionism hard at work, saturated fats got a bad rap by Ansel Keys, and so vegetable oil producers capitalized on his findings by promoting polyunsaturated oils, and margarine was touted as preferable to butter. Then when hydrogenation and trans fat took a hit, margarine manufacturers changed their labels to boldly proclaim "NO trans fats." Unfortunately, margin is not a real food. It's a concocted spread.
By capitalizing on science's love for reductionism by isolating nutritional elements from the whole foods package in which they originate, food manufacturers convince us that their highly-processed and nutrient-poor products are "heart healthy," "rich in omega 3s," "contain zero trans fats," "provide daily fiber requirements," or "contain no cholesterol."
It is important to know how we got where we are in our understanding of nutrition if we are to make wise decisions about what to eat. Too many people are informed on diet by slick marketing with little knowledge of real science, and even scientists cannot agree with each other. One report claims saturated fats are bad, another claims they are healthy. How does the average reader and health seeker decide who is right? Pollan feels qualified to advise us on these points. But while he includes the research of some great health educators such as Weston Price and Gary Taubes, he seemingly ignores their contributions when he makes his dietary recommendation of: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.
Pollan's advice to stick to whole foods--those found along the periphery of the supermarket--is sound, as is his advice to buy directly from the farmer, avoid foods your great grandmother wouldn't recognize, eat slowly and savor your meals at the table with friends or family, grow your own food when possible, eat meat from animals that eat food they were designed to, eat less, etc. (After all that he feels the need to inform readers not to eat at gas stations or avoid foods with health claims on the packaging.) This is all pretty typical advice spurred by the agricultural sustainability movement, but it doesn't really get down to what foods will actually sustain us.
Pollan rightly steers people away from grains and toward eating leaves. But the reason people eat grains is because they were told that saturated fats and cholesterol found in meat will kill them, and grains have a high starch content (as well as opiates), which provides calories for fuel. There just isn't enough fuel in greens. Pollan suggests that eating plants will cause you to eat less. (In actual practice, you might end up gorging on ice cream at the end of the day. Even raw food vegans bulk up on fat by eating large quantities of seeds and nuts.) But then he grants an exception to unrefined grains because their starch content provides needed calories. He fails to give weight to the fact that since the inception of agriculture humans have grown sicker, weaker, and shorter and many people get very sick on certain grains. My own health was immeasurably improved when I gave up gluten-containing grains.
Pollan's advice to eat less is sound, but people naturally eat less when their nutritional and fuel needs are met. As an example, Pollan credits the health of the French to their small portions, leisurely meals, and consumption of wine while seeming to discount the fact that the French eat a LOT of saturated fat, something he concedes elsewhere in the book. Anyone who's eaten a high-fat diet knows how satiating fat is. And low-carb diets work for weight loss precisely because consuming fat and protein provide dense nutrition and sufficient, sustainable fuel, so you end up eating less without hunger. Have a pork chop for breakfast and you can last until dinner; eat a bowl of cereal and you'll be hungry within a few hours.
Yes, he makes suggestions on which meats to eat, but doesn't provide any advice as to why eating meat might be beneficial. Instead, he writes: "Unlike plants, which we can't live without, we don't need to eat meat--with the exception of vitamin B12, every nutrient found in meat can be obtained somewhere else. (And the tiny amount of B12 we need is not too hard to come by; it's found in all animals foods and is produced by bacteria, so you obtain B12 from eating dirty or decaying or fermented produce.)" The Innuit and Masai seem to do fine with a diet very low in plants, and I've yet to read of a culture that is purely vegetarian.
Another common flaw is claiming vegetarian diets are healthier (than meat eating diets is the clear implication). Yes, when you compare them to the standard American diet they are. But where are the studies comparing the vegetarian diet to, say, a paleolithic diet or a diet of whole foods dominated by pasture-raised meats and fats? Frankly, any diet will come out ahead compared to a diet of pizza, pasta, bread, fast food, and beer. Our great grandmothers cooked with lard and tallow. Why didn't they get an honorable mention?
This book is okay if you want a verbose accounting of the history of nutritional science, and Pollan does cover a lot of ground. Serious disconnects occur between the science Pollan writes about in the first two-thirds of the book and the dietary recommendations in the last third. I don't recommend it for dietary advice. If you'd like to learn about better choices in the food you currently eat, I recommend The Real Food Revival, which will provide nonpreachy information on healthier and more sustainable options. For nutritional advice I recommend Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat,Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life or Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.