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Five flavours » Books, Healthy » In Defence of Food: Book review

In Defence of Food: Book review

In Defence of Food

“The U.N. recently announced that the number of people suffering from the problems of “overnutrition” has for the first time exceeded the number suffering from undernutrition” (Pollan 2008:xiv)

As the book sits here accruing library fines (Naughty blogger!) I am finally getting round to reading and reviewing In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan. Well, I loved it. It says all the things I have always believed about the food industry and how it affects what we, as normal consumers, eat. The difference is that it explains in more detail than I have ever had, the connections. For example, from reading Diet for a New America in the 1980s, I knew that the meat and dairy boards in the U.S. are the ones responsible for supplying schools with ‘educational’ materials about what to eat but this book goes on to explain how, why and by whom food has been “nutritionised” and “industrialized” in other ways. Where it used to be that humans were drawn to foods by taste and colour and instincts (remember those?), now we have been trained to think in terms of nutrients. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But the thing we have to think about is who has called for the nutrient-determining research and for what purpose? By reducing a food item to it’s nutrient parts (which, by the way, is a very inexact science as far as variable-laden food is concerned) industry can successfully market in terms of “low fat” “low GI” “high carb”, etc. His best example is that of margarine. Seriously, you would think that it was a super food in the way it can be manipulated to fit any deficiency. This month, it seems, magarine can lower your cholesterol. Cue eye roll.

He goes on to cite researchers such a Weston Price who have looked at the ills of the Western Diet through fieldwork in the past and how their findings, some of which need to be taken with a pinch of low-sodium salt, tend to lean toward the same idea, we need to eat real food, but we don’t eat real food, so we get sick.

Michael Pollan’s manifesto is this: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pretty straightforward if you ask me, but he does go on to define ‘food’ and clarify the other two points. Sadly, what should be obvious to us about food is often lost in these days of fake foods and “nutritionism” and I really like how Mr. Pollan has laid it all out here in black and white. While reading the book I often found myself thinking “I knew it!” when I’d come across things that I’d been doing and felt were right, but just didn’t really know why. It’s good to find someone who thinks that same as you, or is it just that instinct thing?

I’d recommend the book as an alternative to nutrient-based writings on food. The book doesn’t say that low carb/low fat/ high protein/high sugar/extreme fibre/veganism/meat eating is the way to go. Instead, it explains how we have been looking at it all from a managed perspective. And that perspective has been managed for us by others (scientists and educators led by industry, basically).

Have you read this book or any of this others? I’d love to hear your opinions.

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7 Responses to "In Defence of Food: Book review"

  1. Marie says:

    Oh yes, thank you for reminding me, I’d forgotten about that pivotal book. So too was Diet for a New America for vegetarianism and veganism, in the 1980s, I believe. It seems like now there are more and more people thinking about food issues on such a grand scale and it is good to see, isn’t it?

  2. kate says:

    Yes, Michael Pollan presents our “food picture” in an enlightening and understandable fashion.
    Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Lappe Moore, circa 1970’s, is an equally informative and facinating read.
    I’m so glad I found your web site.

  3. Mel says:

    Haven’t read this book, but would be interested to. I really enjoyed reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by him!

    I am grieved that too many people in the world suffer from malnutrition/hunger… and also that too many people eat too much stuff that they think is “food” but really harms their bodies. Also the fact that so many people don’t know what it is they are really letting into their bodies each and every day, or how the food arrived on their plate, or where it was from…!

    I like Michael Pollan’s investigative and thorough, thoughtful writing – look forward to reading more of this writing.

    On what you write re instinct above. I think it’s true, that when we really pay attention to what our bodies are saying – we will find that we get to a point when we aren’t craving a massive load of meat, or an endless supply of cupcakes. Our bodies know what is good for us… but we are socialised into pleasuring ourselves with certain “goodies” or “naughty food” which in fact taste better to the imagination than to our bodies. Sigh!

  4. Marie says:

    Thank you for the comments, everyone. Genie- Now that I’ve paid my massive fine for being late, I can tell you that it is back in Auckland libraries if you are looking for a copy:)

  5. Genie says:

    I’ve had this one on my reading list for a while. I just need to find some time to read! Glad to read that you enjoyed it.

  6. shalini says:

    Very interesting indeed. Definitely on my reading list.

  7. RyukyuMike says:

    Wow, I never heard of overnutrition before, but, see it all the time ! Interesting.

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