Good Read: “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan
Any friend of mine who reads this post is going to laugh (or maybe cry), because they have all been subjected to my excessive preaching about the wonders of this book. In short, I can’t shut up about it.
Michael Pollan’s first book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, explored the realities of the food production systems that dictate what and how we eat. His newest book, In Defense of Food, is the practical application of that knowledge, a kind of diet book for whole food-ists.
Pollan’s manifesto is so simple it seems silly: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. What could he mean by “eat food”? Isn’t that what we do every day? Pollan argues that most of what we eat these days is not food, but more like an engineered “food-ish” product that would be unrecognizable to our grandmothers or great-grandmothers.
He sees the rise of “nutritionism” as the death of food—nutritionism is the term he has coined for our increased focus on the molecular breakdowns of our food, rather than on the foods themselves. It’s easy to see nutritionism in action every day—we are constantly being told to eat less carbs or more fiber. There are good fats and bad fats. One day we’re supposed to eat more vitamin C, the next day it’s omega-3’s. The one thing that’s missing from these recommendations? Actual food!
Our bread is no longer just bread, it has to be vitamin-fortified or low-carb. Our yogurt is no longer just milk and bacteria, but now comes pumped full of unpronounceable chemicals to keep it fresh for longer. We have CHEESE IN A CAN.
If we stopped focusing on the chemical compounds we’re supposed to eat, Pollan argues, and just start eating real food, all of those vitamins and minerals and fats and fiber will just come naturally. Eating this way, of course, is more expensive, which can be frustrating for a girl on a budget. But then I think about how much money I waste every month on, say, beauty magazines, or my fancy cable package…wouldn’t some of that money serve me better if I put it towards buying fresh local veggies instead of my usual bendy celery and chemical coated apples? Should you really be eating a food product that’s been designed for shelf life rather than quality?
For many, the lifestyle Pollan proposes—buying organically and locally, cooking as much as possible, avoiding foods with more than 5 ingredients—seems daunting, near impossible at times. But he breaks things down into smaller goals that seems manageable—you may not be able to afford grass-fed local organic beef, but you might think twice before eating that Twinkie…
Giving up convenience foods is tough for me because I’m always busy, but I’m taking my first step towards eating real food: my friend and I just joined a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture organization, which means for the low low price of $15/week ($7.50/week split between us), we’ll get a box of fresh vegetables from a local farm each week.
If you’re interested in changing the way you think about food, or simply curious about what’s inside “Go-gurt”, then “In Defense of Food” is a must-read.