In Defense of Food By Michael Pollan
A review: Okay, I'll say it: If you read one book about food this year, it should
be Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. It's not
a diet book in the traditional sense--Pollan, author of The Omnivore's
Dilemma, doesn't concern himself with calorie counting, nor does he
take a narrowly prescriptive approach to eating. He does, however, set
out to determine why the so-called Western diet is the unhealthiest in
the world; how, despite a full-fledged societal obsession with food and
nutrition, Americans have gotten to the perverse point where we are
both overweight and undernourished.
Pollan's conclusions align so completely with the approach to food for
which Portland is known that actually reading the book might seem
unnecessary. After all, we're already aware of the benefits of eating
fresh, local food--in a town that practically coined the term "farm to
table," these concepts are hardly revelatory.
Pollan builds his case systematically, beginning with a societal shift
in the last century toward "nutritionist" thinking (i.e., the idea that
foods themselves are less important than the nutrients they contain).
Drawing from numerous examples of botched nutrition science (remember
when margarine was a health food?), Pollan argues that by removing
nutrients from foods, and removing foods from their natural ecosystems,
we fundamentally distort our relationship to the things that we eat.
By the end of the book, he has constructed a solid intellectual
framework for an intuitively sensible approach to eating: the idea that
foods are a system, full of complex components that interact in ways
that scientists barely understand, and that the best way to attain the
maximum health benefit from what you consume is not by eating
"low-fat," "low-carb," or "fortified" processed foods, but by eating
the whole foods from which the human animal has obtained the necessary
nutrients for thousands of years.
Pollan's tone throughout makes the book a fast, entertaining read: He's
exasperated that he has to say this stuff at all, and bemused that
political machinations and a blinkered scientific community have so
distorted the way Americans eat that good old-fashioned food needs
defending. But it does, and it's a good thing we have Pollan around do