Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book Review- In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

I just finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I found it to be an interesting continuation of Botany of Desire and Ominove's Dilemma. The book In Defense of food, continues Pollan's views on eating more plants and looking at the ways in which the Western diet is reflected by the food we eat. This book is more of a rant and is a culmination of the other two books. Where as Omnivore's Dilemma and Botany of Desire were more books of him exploring and issue and then talking about what he had learned, Eater's Manifesto is him talking about the issues with our diet and ways to change the way we eat. He begins with a section on nutritionism which is the focus by Americans on single nutrients such as protein or vitamin b12 or fat rather than on the whole foods. He discusses that we have become so focused on what we should not eat such as fats or carbohydrates and that the "bad foods" have changed over time as science has changed. We have gone from margarine being the perfect alternative to butter to realizing that butter is much better for us than margarine because of the trans-fats in margarine. Pollan also goes into the science of nutrionism and how we are still not sure how all of the vitamins and chemicals in our food interact and how they in combination work to make us healthier. The next section is where he defines food. As he says, we should not have to define food, but unfortunately we do at this point. He is trying to define food as anything that your great grandmother would recognize as food, so things like twinkies are not food, all the chemicals we add to bread among other things then negates them as food, high fructose corn syrup which seems to be in everything these days is not food and should not be treated as such. Pollan seems to be trying to redefine food as more "natural", he wants to get away from chemical additives as being allowed to be called food. The final section is then on how to eat.

Because I agree with his views on things that we as Americans eat too much food that is processed, I really liked this book. I liked his thoughts that things like bread have been so altered now it is hard to still see them as bread. At one point he lists all of the ingredients in bread, there is a long list of them. Bread should be simply flour, yeast, and water. He also looks at the fact that we have so processed foods like flour that we now have to add nutrients back into the bread or other final product to replace what we have taken out. He is also honest that we need to change our eating habits. We need to eat less, less snacking and less on our plates when we eat our main meals. We need to eat more plants and less meat. We need to recognize that the interactions between us and our food have evolved over a long period of time and that in processing these foods we have changed these relationships.

Eater's Manifesto was an interesting book with ideas that have been proposed and discussed in many other places, but it is nice to see them put together in one book that is easily accessible to all who wish to change their eating habits and to be more aware of the issues in our current food system.


Tengrain said...

I'm glad you liked this book, and read it in context of the Omnivore's Delima. He swears this is his last food book, too.

I read somewhere that the outcry at the end of TOD was that he never gave his readers and recommendations, and so this book was really to address that short coming.

I've been trying to follow his guidelines - and fairly successfully - and my grocery bill has dropped (as has my waistline), and I do not feel deprived.



Whiskeymarie said...

I read The Botany of Desire, and I'm working through The Omnivore's Dilemma- both very timely valid books, in my mind. I'll read In defense of Food at some point, but as it is my life I try and spread out my "food" related reading.

I've been of the mindset for a long time now that food is best when it is closest to its natural state 90% of the time. Common sense would tell us that food with ingredients we can't even pronounce can't be good for us.
At all.