Writer’s Wednesday: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

in defense of foodI really enjoyed In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. It is easy to read, funny and very thought-provoking and inspiring. Through three easy, simple rules Michael Pollan tells you how to eat a healthier diet. Without telling you what to eat (he believes you are clever enough to make those decisions yourself). The three rules are: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

From the back: “This book is a celebration of food. By food, Michael Pollan means real, proper, simple food – not the kind that comes in a packet, or has a list of unpronounceable ingredients, or that makes nutritional claims about how healthy it is. More like the kind of food your great-grandmother would recognize.”

I would greatly recommend it to anyone who has any kind of interest in what they eat, in their own health and well-being. In this book, Michael Pollan explains the dangers of fads, nutritionism (the obsessive focus on one nutrient instead of focusing on the synergy and wholeness of foods), industrialism and the way we have completely lost touch with what we eat. I also really like the way he is very thorough with his references – but in an unobtrusive way. There are some footnotes throughout the book with references to specific studies that he mention, as well as some 25 pages of sources ordered by chapter.

I may not agree with all of his premises or conclusions, but he makes many good points, and more importantly, provokes you to think for yourself.

So, let’s break down the 3 rules:

Eat food:

  • Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting).
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that include D) high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Avoid food products that make health claims.
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. (The peripheries usually have the dairy, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables whereas the middle has all the processed foods).
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. (Shop farmers’ markets and the like).
Mostly plants:
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  • You are what you eat eats too. (I.e., the diet of the animals you eat matters as well).
  • If you have the space, buy a freezer. (In order to stuck up on quality stuff in order to bring the price down).
  • Eat like an omnivore. (I.e., eat a varied diet).
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soils. (Preferably organic).
  • Eat wild foods when you can.
  • Be the kind of person who takes supplements . (Don’t necessarily take supplements, but be the kind of person who would take supplements: typically more health conscious, better educated and more affluent).
  • Eat more like the French. Or the Italians. Or the Japanese. Or the Indians. Or the Greeks. (Any Traditional Food Culture tends to be healthier than the Western diet).
  • Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
  • Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner.
Not too much:
  • Pay more, eat less. (Quality over quantity).
  • Eat meals. (Not snacks).
  • Do all your eating at a table. (No, a desk is not a table).
  • Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
  • Try not to eat alone.
  • Consult your gut.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.

Favourite quotes

That eating should be foremost about bodily health is a relatively new and, I think, destructive idea – destructive not just of the pleasure of eating, which would be bad enough, but paradoxically of our health as well. Indeed, no people on earth worry more about the health consequences of their food choices than we Americans do – and no people suffer from as many diet-related health problems.

A whole subcategory of nutritional science – funded by industry and, according to one recent analysis, remarkably reliable in its ability to give a nutritionist sheen (and FDA-approved health claim) to all sorts of foods, including some not ordinarily thought of as healthy).

At this point you’re probably saying to yourself, Hold on just a minute. Are you really saying the whole low-fat deal was bogus? But my supermarket is still packed with low-fat this and no-cholesterol that! My doctor is still on me about my cholesterol and telling me to switch to low-fat everything. I was flabbergasted at the news too, because no one in charge – not in the government, not in the public health community – has dared to come out and announce: Um, you know everything we’ve been telling you for the last thirty years about the links between dietary fat and heart disease? And fat and cancer? And fat and fat? Well, this just in: It now appears that none of it was true. We sincerely regret the error.

The problem starts with the nutrient. Most nutritional science involves studying one nutrient at a time, a seemingly unavoidable approach that even nutritionists who do it will tell you is deeply flawed. “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, a New York University nutritionist, “is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of the food, the food out of the context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle.”

…You may not think you eat a lot of corn and soybeans, but you do: 75 percent of the vegetable oils in your diet come from soy (representing 20 percent of your daily calories) and more than half of the sweeteners you consume come from corn (representing around 10 percent of daily calories).

…To put this in more concrete terms, you now have to eat three apples to get the same amount of iron as you would have gotten from a single 1940 apple, and you’d have to eat several more slices of bread to get your recommended daily allowance of zinc than you would have a century ago.

Is it just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared? In 1960 Americans spend 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to  9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16 percent of national income. I have to think that by spending a little more on healthier food we could reduce the amount we have to spend on health care.

6 Comments

  1. LK

    This sounds fun. I’ll have to add it to the list

    Like

    • It is definitely very well-written and easy to be read while being thought-provoking.

      Like

  2. I very much liked the book. I also liked that you can read it so easily. I gave it to my dad for his birthday last year, and he enjoyed it as well. 🙂

    Like

    • Yay 🙂 I’m happy he enjoyed it as well, I’m thinking about recommending it to my mum as well.

      Like

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