In Defense of Food

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Food may be a strange thing to feel the need to defend, but in his latest book, Michael Pollan explains: "For while it used to be that food was all you could eat, today there are thousands of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket."  These foodlike substances have risen out of food science and what Pollan calls "nutritionism," a food philosophy that pays more attention to the individual parts of food -- you know many them well: cholesterol, fiber, saturated fat, vitamins -- than to the sum of those parts.

in defense of food.jpgIn Part 1 of In Defense of Food, Pollan describes the evolution of nutritionism, while in Part 2 he describes how nutritionism is, counterintuitively, detrimental to our health.  "[There] is a global pandemic in the making, but a most unusual one, because it involves no virus or bacteria, no microbe of any kind -- just a way of eating."

It's funny -- although Pollan is obviously horrified by nutritionism, he is not immune from its clutch.  At one point, talking about omega-3 fatty acids, he says, "Could it be that the problem with the Western diet is a gross deficiency in this essential nutrient?"  But at least he's cognizant of his position, admitting that "the undertow of nutritionism is powerful, and more than once over the past few pages I've felt myself being dragged back under."  For those of us who grew up in the age of nutritionism, or really for anyone who has been shopping in supermarkets or watching television since the 1980s, it's hard not to think primarily about the nutrients in our food.  I feel like I'm stuck in the nutritionism matrix!

In Part 3, Pollan lays out a set of personal policies to guide readers in their eating choices.  This was the part I was really excited about reading -- and the part that Pollan set out to write after leaving his Omnivore's Dilemma readers with some questions about what the heck they should eat on a regular basis.  Happily for us, these guidelines are incredibly simple.

Eat Food: E.g., Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as a food, and Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

Not too much: E.g., Do all your eating at a table (No, a desk is not a table), and Try not to eat alone.

Mostly plants: E.g., Eat well-grown food from healthy soils, and Have a glass of wine with dinner.

While I have to say that I enjoyed reading The Ominvore's Dilemma more, I'm very happy that I read In Defense of Food and got some perspective on a lifetime's worth of food brainwashing.


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