Book Review: In Defense of Food

Book Review: In Defense of Food

Posted on 07. Apr, 2010 by in Feed Your Body, Fitness & Wellness Books

Hello Aerobicmom Readers!

Today I have a Book Review for you:  In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan.

Click Here to Buy on Amazon

I devoured this book, subtitled “An Eater’s Manifesto,” the week that the Health Care Bill passed.  As the politics of Health Care Reform swirled around in my mind, this book made me accutely aware of the politics of our diet, how food is marketed to us, and how big money misleads us even down to the crackers we purchase.  This book was thought-provoking, paradigm-breaking, uncomfortable and exasperating, and, in the end, left me more committed to being an informed consumer and a moderate and healthy eater.

The first line of this book sums up the point of all 201 pages:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

But don’t be fooled.  It isn’t nearly that simple, and it takes all 201 pages to really understand what this simple statement means.

This book is broken up into 3 parts:

Part one, “The Age of Nutritionism”

Pollan reviews the history of “Nutritionism,” which, as Pollan explains, is the cultural phenomenon of seeing food as a sum of its parts (its nutritional content) rather than food as a whole.  Pollan particularly points out the politics behind the way the science of nutritionism took over a more traditional way of eating, where cultural norms (ie MOM), decided what, when, and how much we should eat.

Part two, “The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization”

highlights the various health ramifications the entire world has seen as more and more developing countries have adopted the Western Diet.  It also delineates what exactly it is about the Western Diet that is so harmful.

Part Three, Getting Over Nutritionism

Offers some fairly simple and liveable rules to help guide all of us eaters to what we actually should be eating, and how to be healthy in a world so entrenched in the tenets of Nutritionism that we don’t even know how to discuss food and diet without falling into its jargon.

What I liked:

  • I felt much more informed after reading this book.  It is amazing how misleading advertising can be.  I have always read nutrition labels carefully, but I will recommit to this practice after reading this book, particularly reading the list of ingredients, and I’ll be a little more skeptical of noisy health claims on boxes and labels.
  • Seeing the historical background that took us from traditional ethnic diets to a more processed Western diet.  It’s interesting to see how and why we got where we are now.
  • The suggestions Pollen gives in Part 3 to eat healthfully.  Particularly helpful were his suggestions to plant a garden, to eat meals (and avoid snacking) & eat sitting down, and to not eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

What I did not like:

  • In a sense, this book left me far more confused about how to eat healthfully than I was before I read it.  On one hand Pollen bashes nutritionism, (seeing food too strictly in terms of its nutritional content), while on the other he bashes the Western diet with its highly processed, refined “food products.”  Not even organic produce escapes his criticism for the long distances it travels to get from California’s organic farms.  The book leaves you feeling like you just can’t win.
  • The fact that Pollen contradicts himself repeatedly, first criticizing nutritionism, then using nutrition science to support his own claims of what is optimally healthy.  Although Pollen himself acknowledges this inconsistency, it adds to the overall feeling of the book that the only way to be truly healthy is to go back to the hunter & gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors.  Not. Gonna. Happen.

What I took from this book:

  • Recommit to eating & serving my family 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Recommit to making whole wheat bread from scratch at home.
  • Commit to cutting down on “food products” that replace fat (an essential nutrient) with chemicals, texturizers and gums.  *This is a tough one for me!
  • Continue in a moderate approach to healthy eating, using wisdom and moderation to eat what makes me and my family feel good and strong, realizing that there are as many fanatical opinions about what makes the optimal diet as there are nutrition scientists.

If you’re interested in reading this book for yourself, we’d love to hear a review from you on!

Buy the book at Amazon: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

3 Responses to “Book Review: In Defense of Food”

  1. Alexandria

    27. Apr, 2010

    Cool trick I learned in food science about making better whole wheat bread from scratch: if you grind your own wheat, do it a few days in advance and stick the flour in the freezer to let it “age” without losing many nutrients. It will make a better, stronger, less dense loaf! Freezing whole wheat flour will also prevent off-flavors from developing. Amazing. I could tell you why…but yeah…:)

    Reply to this comment
  2. admin

    27. Apr, 2010

    Thanks so much for the tricks Alexandria! I will definitely use them! It’s nice to grind the flour ahead of time anyway…seems to cut down on the putsiness of the whole process if you’ve got the whole ground and ready to go on hand. I’ll let you know how my next batch goes!

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