This post should have gone up on July 31 except that I totally forgot to write and post it. Here it is!
A few years ago I actually chose and read this book for my book club in Minnesota and really enjoyed it. However, I don’t own it and always get the contents confused with another good Pollan book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Pollan is a supporter of the Slow Food (as opposed to fast food) movement and is featured in the movie Food, Inc. and many other books about local, seasonal, sustainable food.
If the reader is to absorb anything from this book, it should be seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Pollan argues against nutrition science which studies nutrients in isolation as opposed to as whole foods as a way for food manufacturers to make false health claims. He touts following a few simple rules for eating, such as:
Eat food. Not food products. Things that are grown, not manufactured.
Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. This is not a semantic argument about your Norwegian ancestors not knowing what a mango is, this applies to things like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Avoid food products with more than 5 ingredients or ingredients you can’t pronounce. If it’s got that many syllables, it’s a chemical, not a food. And this doesn’t mean homemade dishes with multiple ingredients, it’s talking about shelf-stable food with added salt and stabilizers.
Avoid food products that make health claims. Drugs need government approval to make health claims, foods do not. Check your cereal box (a common offender). It may cite a study which supports the claim that it reduces your risk of heart disease, but you may want to find out who funded that study.
Shop the periphery of the grocery store. The outside edge of the grocery store tends to have produce, bulk bins, dairy, meat and fish counters, and the bakery. The inside aisles often have cereal, snacks, soda, and candy. Never entering the middle aisles make it easier to resist.
Get out of the grocery store. Pollan suggests shopping at farmer’s markets or specialty shops for better quality, sustainable, seasonal foods. Can’t argue there.
Are there flaws with some of Pollan’s arguments? Of course. Many accuse him of being elitist (see a recent article where he touts paying $8 for a dozen eggs) and advocating a diet which is unattainable and too expensive for many people. Like Food Matters by Mark Bittman I still think the basic information is valid even without directly addressing socioeconomic issues. One of the other main points of the book is that “cheap” food isn’t actually cheap, it’s a subsidized commodity which keeps prices artificially low which is bad for farmers and farm workers as well as people’s health.
I highly recommend reading this book for an eye-opening look at our food system. For a concise version, Pollan also wrote Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, a slim volume featuring 64 rules that flesh out specifics of “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”
Have you read In Defense of Food or another Pollan book? What did you think?
For other opinions check out the blogroll at The Kitchen Reader for more reviews.
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