Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

"Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants."  This is how Michael Pollan says to eat.  He explains his 2008 book In Defense of Food in the introduction as a handbook of how to take his ideas from his 2007 book The Omnivore's Dilemma and put them into practice.

When The Omnivore's Dilemma was published, it took the world a bit by storm.  Pollan ended up mainstream, telling us that the Standard American Diet (SAD) was not the best way of eating.  He did this in a roundabout way, never quite offering an alternative, but offering plenty of stories and giving us quite a good read.

In In Defense of Food, Pollan takes his argument that much further.  He divides the book into three parts: 1. The Age of Nutritionism, 2. The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization, and 3. Getting over Nutritionism.  He clearly lays out this thesis in his introduction, then argues his points using plenty of evidence.  His high school English teacher would be proud of his straightforward writing in support of his argument and ample use of evidence.

I liked his first section on the Age of Nutritionism.  He approaches the topic with a bit of dry humor and explains it in an interesting and informative way.  His argument against low-fat eating, and explanation of how we (as a society) began to think about foods as fuel and about them as a mathematical equation of nutrients is compelling and made me stop and think.

I found the second section on the Western Diet a bit dull and repetitive, but I enjoy reading books supporting the ideas of Weston Price and have read so much on the topic that nothing he said was groundbreaking for me (my favorite cookbook is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon).  I can appreciate that he is helping bring these ideas more mainstream, and perhaps using the notoriety he gleaned through the popularity of The Omnivore's Dilemma.  He does explain how the Standard American Diet has been evidenced to make us sicker, and briefly catalogs these diseases.  If you have never read about this before, it will open your eyes.

In the third part, he gives practical suggestions of how to, "Eat Food.  Mostly Plants.  Not Too Much."  Again, I found his suggestions repetitive, but again, I love reading about this topic.  My favorite suggestion of his worth repeating is to only eat food that your great-grandmother would have known was food.  He also points out how difficult it is to decipher which foods are processed sometimes, and gives some ideas about how to do this.

Overall, this is a good read, especially considering that Pollan's credentials are merely those of a thorough researcher and excellent writer, but those are enough to make his points.

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