In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

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Amazon Significant Seven, January 2008: Food is the one thing that Americans hate to love and, as it turns out, love to hate. What we want to eat has been ousted by the notion of what we should eat, and it's at this nexus of hunger and hang-up that Michael Pollan poses his most salient question: where is the food in our food? What follows in In Defense of Food is a series of wonderfully clear and thoughtful answers that help us omnivores navigate the nutritional minefield that's come to typify our food culture. Many processed foods vie for a spot in our grocery baskets, claiming to lower cholesterol, weight, glucose levels, you name it. Yet Pollan shows that these convenient "healthy" alternatives to whole foods are appallingly inconvenient: our health has a nation has only deteriorated since we started exiling carbs, fats--even fruits--from our daily meals. His razor-sharp analysis of the American diet (as well as its architects and its detractors) offers an inspiring glimpse of what it would be like if we could (a la Humpty Dumpty) put our food back together again and reconsider what it means to eat well. In a season filled with rallying cries to lose weight and be healthy, Pollan's call to action?"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."--is a program I actually want to follow. --Anne Bartholomew

The companion volume to The New York Times bestseller The Omnivore?s Dilemma

Michael Pollan?s lastbook , The Omnivore?s Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; now In Defense of Food shows us how to change it, one meal at a time. Pollan proposes a new answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pollan?s bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.

Customer Reviews:

  • Zealous Desire To Discredit The Whole Nutritional Science Community Does A Disservice To The Reader
    Michael Pallon probably takes his best shot at "nutritionism" in "The Melting Of The Lipid Hypothesis". He states, "The lipid hypothesis (for heart disease) is quietly melting away, but no one in the public health community, or the government, seems quite ready to publicly acknowledge it. For fear of what exactly? That we'll binge on bacon double cheeseburgers? More likely that we'll come to the unavoidable conclusion that the emperors of nutrition have no clothes and never listen to them again".

    Pollan's intention seems pretty clear. Discredit the lipid hypothesis for heart disease, (that low-fat saves the day) and in so doing discredit the whole nutritional science community, with it's thirty years of low-fat dietary recommendations.

    Elsewhere he writes, "half the people who get heart attacks don't have elevated cholesterol levels, (In fact, they do, but we've chosen to call these elevated levels normal.) and about half the people with elevated cholesterol do not suffer from CHD". (coronary heart disease)

    "As for the precipitous decline in heart disease during the years of World War 2, that could just as easily be attributed to factors other than the scarcity of meat, butter and eggs".

    "But the lipid hypothesis would not be deterred. Researchers in the 1950s and 1960s had studied populations in other countries that had substantially lower rates of heart disease, which could be explained by their lower consumption of saturated fat". But again, this could also be attributed to other factors, what science calls confounding variables.

    "The consensus hinged on two suggestive links that were well established in the early sixties: a link between high rates of cholesterol in the blood and the likelihood of heart disease and a link between saturated fat in the diet and cholesterol levels in the blood. Both these links have held up, but it doesn't necessarily follow from them that consumption of saturated fat leads to heart disease, unless you can also demonstrate that serum cholesterol is a cause or heart disease, and not, say, just a symptom of it. And though evidence for a link between cholesterol in the diet and cholesterol in the blood has always been tenuous, . . . . ." Tenuous? At this point I was tempted to just tear this short chapter out and throw it away.

    This from "The China Study". "But when we measured blood cholesterol levels in China, we were shocked. They ranged from 70-170 mg/dL! Their high was our low, and their low was off the chart you might find in your doctor's office! It became obvious that our idea of "normal" values (or ranges) only applies to Western subjects consuming the Western diet". (The typical North American consumes about ten times as much animal protein as the average rural Chinese consumed within the 130 villages in the 65 counties studied.) "It so happens, for example, that our "normal" cholesterol levels present a significant risk for heart disease. Sadly, it is also "normal" to have heart disease in America".

    If you're concerned about heart disease, read the "Broken Hearts" chapter of The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health.

    About 80% of North American men over 45, and women over 50, will have evidence of plaque or other vascular abnormality on a carotid artery screen. If you have vascular disease, the non-medicated ( statin drugs fudge true cholesterol readings ) level of LDL cholesterol in your blood is the main factor determining the accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque, and also a major risk-factor for plaque rupture, or a "vascular event".

    For over fifty years, nobody in the Framingham study who consistently maintained a total cholesterol level below 150mg/dL ever suffered a heart attack. 35% of the heart attacks that did occur, were at levels we consider normal, between 150 and 200.

    In the "Super Size Me" movie, Don Gorske was featured as a man who had eaten two Big Macs every day for years, and had an exceptionally good cholesterol level of 140mg/dL. I would estimate that less than 5% of the North American population could ever achieve a cholesterol level close to that of Don Gorske, (without drugs) while consuming more than 10% of their calories from animal-based foods.

    I'm definitely a fan of Pollan's overall message, ( EAT FOOD, NOT TOO MUCH, MOSTLY PLANTS ) and do recommend reading this book, but be forewarned, Michael Pollan has an axe to grind with nutritionism. ...more info
  • Has changed the way I choose what to eat
    I've had a strong, intuitive sense for years that nutrition guidelines were arbitrary. It started when I began reading about the Atkins Diet, tried it and by reducing the refined carbohydrates in my diet, easily lost 25 pounds. It continued when I noted the nutrition establishment's reversal of hydrogenated vegetable oil as healthier than animal fat to heart attack in a bottle. Pollan's The Omnivore's Delimma made me further question processed foods and industrially produced whole foods and examine how far we've strayed from our recent ancestors' diets.

    Since reading In Defense of Food a few days ago, I've been reducing the amount of meat in my diet, and as he advises, trying to eat more plants, especially the leaves (it is incredible what proportion of plants we eat are either seeds or seed pods, or worse, highly refined extracts from those). I hit the farmer's market on Saturday for some bundles of fresh, local kale, and with this knowledge in mind, it never tasted better.

    Pollan's a wonderful thinker and fantastic writer. I look forward to his next effort.

    Bryan Gilmer, author of the new crime thriller Felonious Jazz...more info
  • How our "food" is no longer really food
    The devils here are "nutritionism" and "reductive science." I would prefer the terms "big agriculture" and "over processed, refined and denatured" foods. And if the word "science" is insisted upon, it should be "science" sponsored by big agriculture and food processing companies. Terminology aside, the point that Michael Pollan is making is that the problem with the American diet that has led to an astonishing increase in obesity and attendant chronic diseases of plenty such as type two diabetes, is that we are eating foods that have been produced unnaturally in monocultures, foods that have been stripped of many of their nutrients, foods that are alien to any kind of established or traditional cuisine.

    Pollan demonizes reductive science because that has been the tool of the corporate interests. However reduction in science is a method breaks things down into individual parts, a method that is handy for some kinds of problems. When we cannot break down the problem effectively, as in the case with food, reductive science is less capable and we must give greater weight to historical science. We must look at entire cuisines and the social situations in which food is eaten to understand our nutritional relationship to what we eat and how. Sometimes it is the case the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts. In the case of even a single food, such as an orange or an apple or leaf of spinach, it is not currently possible to identify reductively just what it is about the food that makes it healthy for us to eat. Indeed, as Pollan argues, there may well be synergistic effects from a single food to an entire cuisine that are essential to good eating.

    Pollan writes: "In recent years a less reductive method of doing nutritional science has emerged, based on the idea of studying whole dietary patterns instead of individual foods or nutrients." (p. 179) He adds, "How a culture eats may have just as much of a bearing on health as what a culture eats." (p. 182)

    It is also the case that we eat too much. We eat by portion size or until our plate is clean when we should be paying attention to how much we have eaten and how full we feel. We are not able to do that very well because we eat too fast and eat amid a host of distractions like the TV, or the traffic as we are driving in our vehicles, and we have no traditional guidance as to how much to eat. Guiding us are the great corporations that produce the food and want us to consume vast quantities of their products. Furthermore, eating has gotten too easy. I did a little study of some of the foods eaten by the Native Americans in the area around Sacramento and found that just processing foods like acorns, Digger pine nuts, black walnuts, etc. required hours per meal. Pollan asks, "How often would you eat French fries if you had to peel, wash, cut and fry them yourself--and then clean up the mess?" (p. 186) Fast food is a huge part of the problem which is why there is a healthy movement that started in Italy called "slow food." Pollan even refers to some studies which show that "the widespread availability of cheap convenience foods could explain most of the twelve-pound increase in the weight of the average American since the early 1960s." (pp. 186-187)

    The sad truth is that big agriculture and the food processing corporations have addicted Americans to the easy macronutrients in their "foods" and we are in denial. Pollan notes, "The snack food and beverage industry has surely been the great beneficiary of the new social taboo against smoking..." (p. 191) We have traded one addiction for another.

    When we look at traditional diets the world over from China to the Mediterranean, we can see that they suffer from heart attacks, obesity, etc. must less often than we do. I think a more active lifestyle is a major factor here, but the total of ensemble of what, how, and when they eat in traditional ways is the other major factor. Pollan concludes that "the human animal is well adapted to a great many different diets. The Western diet, however, is not one of them." (p. 11)

    There is a lot of other interesting information and insights in this excellent book about how and why we got to this sorry state of affairs vis--vis food. This is the third of Pollan's books on food that I have read, and although perhaps the least of the three, it is nonetheless an outstanding piece of work that ought to be widely read. The other books are The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001) and The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Natural History of Four Meals (2006). See my reviews at Amazon....more info
  • Challenged my thinking about food
    Received my copy of In Defense of Food and could not put it down. Pollan is an outstanding journalist who engages readers, rarely frustrating or boring them.

    As someone almost entirely new to the subject matter, I thought I had a pretty good idea about healthy food. Michael Pollan's book challenged my view and made me re-think my approach to eating....more info
  • nice one
    This book has amazing information but i wish a bit more time was spent on its layout. It is very hard to read back when using it for quick refernce, and there are no graphics, it is just written as though its one big essay. Unfortunate because it has so much good informatin but is wasted with its hard-to-use format....more info
  • Great book, distracting presentation in audio
    I bought the paper book and got halfway through it before buying the audio version -- after realizing I have more time to drive than to read. This is an excellent, concise and eminently sensible book about how the food scientists and food industry and even the government have sacrificed our natural and cultural history about food. Anyone who has ridden the swings of varying nutritional advice (carbs are bad; no, fats are bad!) will appreciate understanding how little scientific grounding these pronouncements actually have, and how they can be traced to politics, profit, and scientific one-upmanship.

    I loved the book, but I thought that the common sense, down to earth tone of the book was belied by the overly dramatic tone of the reader in the audio version. It was less a book reading than a performance. Considering the point of the book (in part) is to refocus on what is simple (well, in other cultures), the exaggerated tone, over and over, sentence after sentence, was not only annoying but undercut the sensible, journalistic tone the paper book had. Five stars for content, 1 star for audio execution.... that's a four.
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  • Good insight on "whole foods" and not so whole foods...
    I really enjoyed listening to the audio book version which I got from the library during my daily commute. The author does give some good insight on several different aspects of food - history behind it and what happened after the industrial revolution when food had become chemically processed, and no longer the real food that our grandmothers cooked for us. The French Paradox was brought up (The French Paradox seems to be brought up in many food type books - Animal, Vegetable Mineral & French Women Don't Get Fat, etc.) At any rate, I can't say I'm going to 100% avoid processed foods, but I could certainly be more discerning about the foods that I eat nowadays by adding some produce from my local farmer's market (even though it is more expensive) along with some foods from the supermarket....more info
  • Some Good Ideas, Too Much Evolution
    I always enjoy books that make vegetables appetizing. It's great to be reminded to eat good food. Unfortunately, this book was sprinkled throughout with doses of evolution. I thought the claim that our ancestors spontaneously produced vitamin C in their bodies was a real stretch. I could do without the made-up stuff. ...more info
  • Awesome book
    This book is awesome. Lots of good information. Changed the way I look at food. Buy it! Be healthy!...more info
  • A Breath of Fresh Air
    Reading "In Defense of Food" made me want to jump up and down with excitement and recommend it to a bunch of friends. So I have!

    It is so fabulous to see an alternate opinion of food wisdom -- and one that makes so very much sense -- reach the popular press. One of my first favorable comments is that "In Defense of Food" is clearly presented, easy to absorb, and actually a pretty quick read.

    I'll admit to having been brainwashed by the nutrition advice of the 70's ... and amazingly didn't feel so hot eating that way. That should have been a clue. Just a couple years ago, I became aware of the work of Dr. Weston Price. It was a bit shocking at first, because it conflicted with a good bit of what I'd learned.

    But not all of it. I was already highly skeptical about the proliferation of processed foods. Throughout all of human history up to the past 80 years or so, they did fine eating the real deal. So I'll freely admit to a pre-existing bias toward eating locally-produced whole foods, including lots of vegetables.

    Unfortunately, as I've also discovered, there is a growing sentiment against this common-sense approach to eating. In fact, I have been somewhat shocked to encounter any number of people who have the opposite bias -- toward processed and prepared food products -- because they "trust the professionals" to prepare food more adequately than they believe it can be done at home.

    Yikes! I hope they have good health insurance, because they're going to need it. Which leads me to my closing thought and current favorite quote from Mr. Pollan's book, "Is is just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared?" (pg. 187)

    Enjoy the read!

    ...more info
  • Just Eat Food. Real Food.
    "Don't you want any of this good food?", my Great Aunt Margaret beams at me over the buffet aisle. I answer, "If any of it were good, I would want it."

    It is the 1970's and a new kind of restaurant came to our rural county: the smorgasbord. Adult eyes widened at the sight of aisles of food, a melange of red, orange, brown and white gooey side dishes punctuated by varieties of tough grisly meat. They wonder that I don't want to load my plate as they do. I equally marveled over their reaction. The food tasted off; powdery when it should be toothsome, salty where it should be savory, and blandly gelatinous when it should be creamy.

    Anything Aung Margaret cooked was a hell of a lot better than this and now I know the reason behind what even my uneducated seven year old palate was perceiving. Aunt Margaret's meals were simple, always a meat, potato and vegetable, cooked simply; but the meat was fresh from the butcher's pack, the potatoes from the bag, and the vegetables from our garden in summer, or from the can or freezer in winter. At my uncle's request, Aunt Marg cooked just like his mother did, and his mother was born in the 1890's. Unknowingly we were living Michael Pollan's dictum to only eat food that our great grandmothers would recognize as food.

    Throughout the work Pollan explores how our Western understanding of food has been reduced to calories and nutrients, a movement he calls nutritionism. He asserts that Westerners have forsaken and maligned the social, emotional and sensory aspects of eating and asked science to dictate our diets. But science has not been successful at curing our ills and limiting our waistlines through diet due to the inherent reductionism necessary to most scientific research. Also, so much of the processing of food has brought with it ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrongenated vegetable oils, ingredients that are not doing us any favors.

    Pollan cuts through the proliferation of dietary advice based upon managing various nutrient levels, and calls us to a simpler, more enjoyable approach to food: just eating food. Real food. Food that you don't have to add water to and stir. Food that doesn't come in a plastic bubble pack. Food that looks and smells and tastes like what it really it. What could be better?

    If you are a bit of a foodie already, you will be nodding your head in agreement all through this this book. If you are tired of trying various dietary regimens to no avail, then this work will set your heart at ease. If you are the impatient sort, skip the chapter on nutritionism's history and delve right into the guidelines in the final chapters. However you use this book, it definitely serves up food for thought. Bon Appetit!

    ...more info
  • good info to learn at 42
    a little filler in the begining. great info for someone that has grown up eating processed junk my whole life, wish i would have read this at sixteen....more info
  • Made me change my diet
    I knew what I was eating was bad, but this book explained to me why. Since then I've slowly been changing my diet. I really enjoy his writing style as well. ...more info
  • Timely book by Pollan
    Michael has written another gem. This book is profound and timely. What you eat and approach to food have a great deal to do with your health. He argues that the western diet is the problem. hard to dispute!...more info
  • Meanwhile, back here on planet Earth ...
    I enjoyed reading this book, but after finishing it I was convinced his advice will work for a only a small subset of the population. This subset consists of relatively wealthy adults who live in temperate climates with lots of free time to plan, shop, cook, and enjoy their expensive food. Here is Illinois I could never follow the "eat locally" nonsense -- his advice to follow native eating patterns and buy local produce is a lot more attractive if you live in California, believe me. I have big doubts about finding recipes to fit his guidelines that small children will willingly eat (at least if you have the normal picky "don't let my food touch" kind of kids -- mine eat their vegetables, but casseroles and stews are off limits because -- horrors -- they touch). He advocates increasing time and money on food preparation when most families have less of both than ever before. He advocates using his great grandmother's way of eating as a benchmark, but is somehow oblivious that her responsibilities in other areas were greatly curtailed -- presumably she wasn't also working a full-time job or running multiple kids to extracurricular activities. This is symptomatic of one of my problems with his argument. He ignores the demand for the processed food that is now so popular. The reasons for the demand are also the reasons his excellent advice is so very hard for the average American to follow. Overall an interesting read, but back here on planet Earth I have to plan dinner around tonight's Girl Scout meeting at 6 p.m. (where snacks will be served, none of them remotely fitting his guidelines). ...more info
  • Only the last 1/3 of the book is useful.
    First off, I am rather surprised at all the glowing reviews. The author really has no credentials to be writing about a subject such as the one he is trying to tackle. He starts off the book poo-pooing food science, but at the core of the book, he's really just ragging on the food industry for exploiting the scientific results (often from a single unrepeated study. Scientific facts are cemented by repeated studies, something the author fails to understand). Through the first 2/3s of the book, he really just repeats himself, not to mention make glaring errors that throw his credibility out the window (carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, not 5. If he can't even get THAT right...).

    The final 1/3 of the book is some good eating advice that would have made a good column in a magazine, or an essay on a website. It is certainly not worth buying the book for, and I'm glad I only borrowed my copy from the library.

    Overall, not worth reading. Just avoid odd chemicals in food, buy organic, local, and in season if you can, and try for fresh (or frozen) instead of canned. That's it....more info
  • Skip the CD's, read the book
    This is a great book, though I expect most who will read it have already read Pollan's earlier books, and therefore will have already absorbed most of this information. I look forward to some fresh insights, or a new direction in his next book, as he has pretty much beaten the whole foods, anti-corn-and-soy dogma to death.

    This review is not actually about the book, but about the Audio Book. Do yourself a favor and DO NOT listen to it if you ever want to read another book by Michael Pollan. The reader, Scott Brick, is really awful. He takes "preachy" to a new level and does a great disservice to Pollan's research and writing. As a non-stop listener to public radio, I am familiar with the sound of Pollan's voice, and of his collegial, didactic tone. I spent the whole time I listened to this book gritting my teeth and wishing Pollan had read it himself (perhaps he's too busy peddling himself on public radio?) instead of shunting it off to Scott Brick. Brick sounds like a second-rate local theater actor with aspirations toward Shakespeare, turning (soft) journalism into high drama. His tone is antagonistic at best, and just overall condescending to the listener. If you'll excuse the pun, he will leave a bad taste in your mouth -- Brick is the corn syrup of audio book readers. ...more info
  • Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
    "Most nutritional advice we've received over the last half century has actually made us less healthy and considerably fatter...[Americans] suffer substantially higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity than people eating any number of different traditional diets."

    One factor is industrial farms, which breed for quantity rather than nutritional quality. Another is processed food - many nutrients are destroyed in the processing. When our bodies are still craving nutrients, we remain hungry and consume more calories.

    The author introduces the term Nutritionism, the focus on nutritional components in a diet (such as protein, Omega 3, Vitamin B12) rather than the foods. "People don't eat nutrients; they eat foods, and foods can behave differently from the nutrients they contain... A whole food might be more than the sum of its nutritional parts."

    Margarine is a good example of the hazards of engineered food. "The food scientists' ingenious method for making healthy vegetable oil solid at room temperature - by blasting it with hydrogen - turned out to produce unhealthy trans fats, fats that we now know are more dangerous than the saturated fats they were designed to replace."

    Pollan's advice: don't east anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

    The good news is, it is not too late to benefit from improved eating habits. The book includes a fascinating story of 10 middle-aged Aborigines who left the bush and became diabetic and overweight. They returned to their homeland, accompanied by a researcher. After seven weeks of eating their traditional diet, blood tests "found striking improvements in virtually every measure of health."

    Pollan's summary is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

    But he doesn't demonize meat eaters. In fact he cites research by Weston Price from the 1930s. "Price identified no single ideal diet - he found populations that thrived on seafood diets, dairy diets, meat diets, and diets in which fruits, vegetables, and grain predominated. The Masai of Africa consumed virtually no plant foods at all, subsisting on meat, blood, and milk... The Eskimos he interviewed lived on raw fish, game meat, fish roe, and blubber, seldom eating anything remotely green."

    This is a well-written, highly informative book.
    ...more info
  • very very pleased
    The book is a "must have" for everyone. It provides extremely useful insights and the information it contains is important for the continuation of one's overall health. Once you read the book your outlook and actions around food will never be the same and you will understand how this country came to be in such a sorry state of health for such a wealthy nation....more info
  • This book changed my life.
    It's as simple as that. I cook the majority of all my food now. It tastes so much better and is so much better for my health. It was hard to do at first but I'm so glad I quit eating processed foods. My body just feels better.

    It took me a while to figure out how to get started. Clean Eating magazine goes along with Pollan's principles. They have recipes that are simply divine. If you need a push getting started on changing the way you eat toward what Pollan suggests, I would recommend subscribing. I even purchased all their back issues. ...more info
  • The most important book I've ever read
    Granted, it's a case of 'preaching to the converted', but the impact of the book is the same: if I were able, I'd give copies to everyone I love.

    Considering the subject matter -nutritionism- Pollan has a light touch, a very non-lecturing way of dealing with the most pressing of issues. While he backs up his conjectures (because, let's face it, *everything* in this field is conjecture, not the least of which what science tells us) with references, he doesn't get bogged down. The tone is serious...yet the delivery quite...well, 'digestible'.

    All the way through reading 'Defense', I found myself a) shaking my head, b) feeling angry, sad, frustrated, and c) wondering what the average person's reaction would be. Because over the past few years, I've found myself walking a particular, mostly divergent path when it comes to certain points-of-view. I am not a materialistic consume-a-lot consumer. I do not see the automobile as being an acceptable core value. I have strident views regarding fitness and health. And I see what Pollan talks about as paramount in our world; the economy, the environment...none of it will matter unless we effect a paradigm shift in the way we eat. Pollan provides enough to chew on here for the necessary dialogue to begin.

    We have, in many ways, been sold a bill of goods regarding food. And at the heart of it, the equivalent of the 'military-industrial complex' that has brought about the world we live in today in a war-sense. Behind this 'Western diet' effort, the scientists, the media and the government. Where we are now, with all of our health problems (and it could very well be true that *all* of our health problems can be linked to what Pollan suggests), is the result of 'the perfect storm': industry's greed, the consumers' need for newer, better, shinier, and the arrogance of a society that has at its core, a belief that it is the most advanced ever seen in all ways, and therefore, cannot possibly make 'mistakes'.

    But I digress.

    Two elements come to mind where I felt the need to add to what Pollan has to say. First, although I understand that this was a book about nutritionism, and therefore only addressed this, he never even touches on why North Americans have been driven to eat more. (No, I'm not referring to the 'empty calories' reason; I 'got' all that, I didn't miss his point). An unhappy, dissatisfied, lacking-compass person/group/culture uses food as a means to hide all these shortcomings. To me, this is a parallel concern to the thrust of Pollan's book. The second has to do with the seven words of wisdom he has as the foundation of what he posits: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I would, at great risk to those who align themselves with what he says, reduce this to "Eat fresh." For in doing this, just as I believe that activity is actually *more* important than 'diet' in terms of being a synergistic motivator, when you eat fresh, everything else falls into place. Eventually, as the impact of the mindset takes effect, you only eat real food, not processed. You don't overeat, because your body is getting what it craves on a much deeper level. And when you're eating fresh, you're bound to eat mostly plants. How can this be? Go back to our roots (something Pollan advises) and examine the eating habits of our ancestors: what they consumed was all fresh.

    If you care about yourself, read this book. If you care about the people in your life, recommend it to others. Most of all, begin the dialogue. ...more info
  • Made me change my diet.
    This book was a wonderful eye-opener. It delves into the eating habits of America, why we are a diet-obsessed culture and why these diets aren't doing a damn thing to help us.

    I couldn't recommend this book enough. I feel as if every American should read this and honestly think about what this man (and our own common sense) has to say about eating properly.

    Since reading this book, I have began to change my diet, using the guidelines that Pollan suggests. I feel like Americas would be better off if they themselves gave this new idea of "eating food" a chance....more info
  • Some good basic info, but lacks scientific rigor
    Michael Pollan's book has some generally good advice about what to eat, and some fascinating/disturbing info about the American food industry, but I was continually frustrated by the author's weak attention to research. Pollan is a not a scientist, and doesn't seem to find it very important to ground his assertions with unimpeachable facts. His advice can sometimes be contradictory ("don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize" but "eat tofu"--If your great-grandmother didn't come from Asia, it's doubtful she would recognize anything made of bean curd) and he tends to cite sources that he likes, rather than sources he's really investigated. For example, Pollan would never list a dairy-industry pamphlet as one of his sources, but he gleefully quotes some rather doubtful statements from an organic-food-industry pamphlet, and apparently didn't bother to ask even one secondary source to verify them. He writes a compelling essay showing that nutrition and dietary habits are incredibly difficult for scientists to study, and implies that any information based on nutritional studies is flawed, yet quotes certain studies as if they are somehow immune to this problem. Pollan maintains that the American government's health-education programs are a major cause of the obesity epidemic, yet the descriptions he gives of these programs don't match my memory of what was actually being taught at the time. And because he gives merely general endnotes, rather than specific footnotes, it's difficult to check where he got his information.

    I also had a little trouble with Pollan's tone, which is strangely naive, and occasionally condescending. He seems overly impressed with some of his own statements, such as his claim that humans are the only animals that turn to experts to tell them what to eat. Even if one accepts that this is true, humans do a lot of things that animals don't do, and in many cases, we should be glad of it. (And as Paula Poundstone has pointed out, she has to tell her dog to get his head out of the garbage every day.)

    I think Pollan is basically right that the American food industry would benefit from a major overhaul, and the suggestions he's making to the government would make us all healthier if they're implemented. But it's too bad that someone with generally sound ideas can't take a little more trouble with the details. Overall, if you read this book to learn how to eat healthier, you'll get some good tips, but take his "facts" with a grain of salt. This is definitely a book to be read, but it should be read critically. ...more info
  • Very Helpful
    All too often I end up reading books that tell people what to do, but not how to actually DO it. The author has definitely taken this into account and provides various resources so that readers may take action in their personal lives. He includes the names of other books (obviously) and directs readers to a variety of web sites that can be used to help the reader to FINALLY eat better! I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who was looking for a way to "go organic," support local agriculture (including farmers, ranchers, and gardeners), or both....more info
  • Fascinating Look at Food
    This book is a fascinating look at food. Basically it boils down to the fact that we need to need whole foods, not processed and we shouldn't try to get all these chemically processed foods that are non or low whatever. In spite of "health food", Americans spend much more on health care and are frighteningly overweight on average. I currently live in Germany and really enjoy the fact that food here is fresh and healthy.
    The one detraction for me is that Pollan keeps talking about "the Western diet" when he means more or less the American diet...this is emphasized as he compares this diet to European diets where people seem to eat lots of "bad" food and are comparatively healthy...possibly also due to the increased exercise...
    Highly recommended if you want to finally learn how to maintain a healthy attitude toward food....more info
  • Eye-Opening!
    This is an eye-opening, grab you by the collar and shake you, look into the deadly and seemingly unbreakable lifestyle that it the Western Diet. This book uncovers how food has evolved from its purest form into the food-like substances that lurk in our cupboards and make us unhealthier by the handful. Some of what you read in this book may be troubling at first when you discover how nutrition science is actually killing us and not making us healthier eaters; however, a few simple adjustments on your shopping list can not only make you healthier but can contribute a healthier world....more info
  • A manifesto for mindful food consumption...
    Author Michael Pollan develops a powerful thesis which is succinctly summarized in the title:

    * Eat food (he defines "food" and differentiates it from what passes for food at the grocery store
    * Eat in moderation
    * Eat mostly plants

    That pretty much sums up the message, along with ancillary tips: eat at a table, eat with others, grow a garden however small, etc. About 60% of the book is filled with background material and science which at times made my eyes glaze over.

    This book can change the way you feel about food and eating.

    A good read to consume before your next trip to McDonald's.
    ...more info
  • In Defense of Food
    One of the very best books about the food we
    eat and how to shop for it have ever read!
    ...more info
  • enlightening
    This book transformed how I think about food. It also revealed the extent to which we are socialized to have such misunderstandings about food. This is a must-read for anybody who wants to eat better. It raises awareness as to what is really food really vs. what is simply food-like product....more info
  • A Must Read: And here is why
    Healing the Rift: Merging Science and Spirituality

    Michael Pollan chronicles the dogma and misconceptions concerning food and food nutrition. With tens of thousands of books published each year on cooking, diet, food, and nutrition, few really give readers the information they need about healthy eating.

    Like a trial lawyer systematically building his case to a jury, Pollan walks us through why our Western diet is killing us prematurely and what to do about it.

    Although Pollan summarizes his book with: "eat food, not too much, mostly plants" this page turner will first convince you to abandon the Western diet and then pave the way for understanding what and how to eat.

    This is a perfect follow up to his The Omivore's Dilemma.
    ...more info
  • Eat food
    Pollan's seven word manifesto has the potential to change how we eat in this country. He goes through the science of where we went wrong (redutionism) and then tries to explain how we can do better (holism).

    Eat food, mostly plants, not too much. He then explains that is clear and understandable terms. We should all read this book and inculcate its message into our lives....more info
  • Best Michael Pollan book
    I have enjoyed all of Michael Pollan's book, though this one was the best one that I've read. The one point I get out of it is that we are a long way from fully understanding our nutrition needs, making the "western" diet horribly incomplete. The western diet attempts to break everything down in to simple nutrients that are required, along with tastes and textures that make food 'pleasant'. The mix is then given to us by marketeers, often resulting in poor health. The health problems caused by the diet are then 'resolved' by the new wonder drugs and medical treatments (some of which don't yet exist.) A simple diet can actually make things much less complicated.

    The book is a quick read, and basically comes down to the conclusion that we should eat "food" rather than chemical processed goop. Simple enough....more info
  • Required reading for anyone who wants to eat healthfully in the United States
    As a journalist Michael Pollan can take a broader view than a nutritionist when looking at food and the food systems that create our food. As with "Omnivore's Dilemma" (Michael Pollan's previous work on food systems in the United States) "In Defense of Food" is really "required reading" for anyone in the United States who wants to eat healthfully. In this book Michael Pollan does an excellent job of cutting through the reductionist thinking common in the nutrition world today, offering very simple ideas on how to eat healthfully....more info
  • The Vision of Michael Pollan
    Not more important than The Omnivore's Dilemma, but absolutely necessary reading for anyone concerned with reversing America's disastrous agriculture policies and politics...more info
  • The Truth to Health Is In Real Food: This should be required reading in ALL schools
    "Most of what we're consuming today is not food, and how we're consuming it--in the car, in front of the TV, and increasing alone--is not really eating."

    It is the American paradox that the more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become. Pollan explains why this has happened and what we can do about it. Understanding the context of health is vital to understanding how to achieve it in our current circumstances.
    ...more info
  • Beyond eye opening... a must read for food consumers
    What has happened to the food over the past 50 years? Plenty. This book outlines in great detail the ol'mighty dollar and its influence on our food chain. Food is no longer food.

    This book breaks down in detail what happened (which by the way is never boring) and ways for your family to eat healthy and partake in REAL FOOD.

    The advice is sound. This is something you need to read. It is time to understand what has happened to FOOD and in a small way, account for the many alignments we face with modern western diets and the society who eats it. ...more info
  • Powerful Message
    This book is an examination of the Western diet and health. In his previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan described his personal experiences in taking the challenge of re-connecting with food. In the present book, Pollan explores some of the themes that he uncovered with his increased interest in food, such as where food comes from, and why we eat it. The book is divided into 3 parts: The Age of Nutritionism, The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization, and Getting over Nutritionism. Pollan argues that food processors and industry groups have used scientific findings on nutrition to further their own financial interests rather than safeguard our health. As a result of "educational" campaigns on nutrition, we follow a misguided program of obsessing over individual nutrients, enriched ingredients, and supplements, when what we really should be eating is a variety of unprocessed foods in reasonable amounts.

    The book is quite engaging to read, as well as informative. Pollan consulted numerous scientific articles when researching this book. Sources are provided at the end of the book, divided by chapter and topic; many are also available online at the author's website. Following the publication of The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan has become a leader and spokesperson for the localvore movement, in which consumers are urged to shorten the food supply chain and eat food that is produced close to home. In the present book, Pollan presents both a guideline and justification for such local eating: "Shake the hand that feeds you." He points out that direct connections between food producers and food consumers help producers keep in mind that real people will be eating their foods (thus, the food needs to be healthy, clean, free of pesticides and other contaminants), and help consumers keep in mind that real people have grown their food (and need to be compensated fairly and held accountable for their growing practices). Such a guideline makes much more sense than the arbitrary distance limits popular in localvore literature (limit your diet to foods grown within a 100 mile radius of where you live). In formulating such a simple guideline, Pollan has distilled the true intention of the localvore movement into a catchphrase that is both meaningful and easy to remember. This is only one of the many simple guidelines Pollan proposes in this book as alternatives to the ones we hear in the media about fat, cholesterol, and vitamins. The book is very thought-provoking and informative, wherever you are in your relationship to food.
    ...more info
  • The American Paradox
    Americans have a curious relationship with food. Despite thinking drastically more about health and its relation to eating than citizens of other nationalities, the American finds his or herself increasingly less healthy. This is the American Paradox. Much like the nutritionist's examination of the "French Paradox" or the Mediterranean Diet, Michael Pollan aims to examine the effect of "nutritionism" on American society and our health epidemic through, his book, In Defense of Food.

    This all began for me back in 2006 as I sat in my dingy apartment across from University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Following the usual evening ritual, I was cooking some canned food or quick microwave item before sitting down to watch the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. This particular evening, Colbert has Michael Pollan as a guest. At the interview table, Pollan lays out corn, peanut butter, soda and a piece of meat claiming that all of the above was naught but corn. This was a grand hypothesis from my perspective and I immediately took to Amazon to order the book that discussed this Omnivore's Dilemma. After quickly devouring the story of the path from producer to consumer, I was struck at how much I simply didn't know about the things in my possession. Where they came from and who made them was a mystery and I had simply never thought about it because I had no need to. The reason for this failure of consideration was the fact that money is the great anonymizer, replacing relationships with cold hard digits as I would later learn from Charles Eisenstein in his book Ascent of Humanity. So as the 2008 New Year rang in, I was in the Dallas airport on my way to Austin for the American Astronomical Society conference when I saw In Defense of Food on the shelf. It's been a busy and and only now in 2009 did I feel that I was ready to read it. Once again Pollan changes the paradigm for food through a complete and thorough dismantling of the nutritional mindset that has used the American populace as its ginuea pigs over the last 50 years. An experiment that is weakening its grip as claims like, "fat is always bad for us" are being proven as having weak links to truth at best.

    Nutritionism makes three fateful claims about the things we eat,

    First: What matters most is not the food but the "nutrient" contained inside the food

    Second: We need expert help in deciding what to eat because nutrition is incomprehensible to everyone but scientists, this is very similar to holding nutrition scientists as being little more than a ruling, mystical priesthood complete with its own esoteric and confounding initiation rituals through the "church" of the FDA

    Third: The purpose of eating is to promote a narrow concept of physical health. Simply put, other cultures do not think of their food as a health item. The majority of the world's citizens eat because they have well defined and very important cultural codes. Taboos and reasons that have developed over a very long period of time guide daily choices for eating. These mechanisms were developed because they work. The human species has adapted to a large number of foods, culture has encoded generations of information in this system.

    The puritanical foundation for American society has long decried the pleasure of life, and eating was not spared from this mindset. The joy of eating has fallen to the wayside. We are told to exert willpower upon our "imperfect" bodies through drinking, "exactly X glasses of water a day" or through getting, "100% of our daily minimum allowance of vitamin A." In a recent study by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Paul Rozin, Americans associated chocolate cake with nothing other than guilt, while the French remarked that it represented celebration.

    Faced with epidemics of Western diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, a plausible solution is to embrace our cultural past. Only in the last 50 years has our species diverged from its original diet, a diet that we have adapted to over thousands if not tens of thousands of years, encoded in the cultural rituals mentioned above. In the early 1900s, Weston Price quit his job as a dentist in Ohio to explore the health of indigenous societies, finding them far healthier than their "wealthier" counterparts in "developed" nations. Price watched the introduction of processed foods into these cultures and quickly saw that these tribes became obese and unhealthy in the same way we are. The problems for the natives resulted from the diet and the new culture being built around the habits of eating. Price's observations were largely ignored because it was bad for business. Food companies, ever agglomerating, were looking to solve the "fixed stomach" problem: that demand for food is fairly constant with the growth of populations.

    How could these food companies grow their market, attracting new investors that could promise of rapid profits? The method food corporations could grow their business was through processing food products, over and over. And this is exactly the route they pursued. Food companies propagated the ideals of nutritionism because they were profitable. As Gregory Scrinis wrote, "...if foods are understood only in terms of the various quantities of nutrients they contain, then even processed foods may be considered `healthier' for you than whole foods if they contain the appropriate quantities of some nutrient." For the international food conglomerates, Pollan remarks: "How convenient."

    If the nutritional quality of an apple in 1940 is 3x that of a modern apple it just means Cargill and Monstanto can profit from our need to buy three times as much. The agricultural policies instituted during the Nixon era with Earl Butz as Secretary of Ag had respectable motives, increasing the access of food for everyone was a noble goal. But years of overproduction and increasing monoculture indicates that now is a a time to re-evaluate, not romanticize the past while falling into the ever growing black hole of Western diseases.

    This situation reminds me of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, a humorous novel about the apocalypse. When the four horsemen arrive, Famine is a major food corporation executive, implementing business practices to ensure that people will consume more; more items that masquerade as food with increasingly less nutritional benefit from doing so. This parody has become reality. Food must be more than fuel.

    The familiarity of the human with the life cycle of the plant or animal is so deeply tied to the maximum nutritional value that food can provide. When tomatoes can give their maximum benefit to us, they are most attractive, they call out to us by turning red and smelling ripe. So is the way of other plants. Processed food removes this tie to nature.

    But there is hope, when Kerin O'Day took ten aborigines back from the confines of a modern diet to their native bush, after seven weeks of a hunter-gatherer diet, the diabetes that plagued the group dissipated. We can avoid many of the negative effects of the western diet by adhering to some simple principles that Pollan closes out the book describing. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Most important among his explanation of this mantra is the recommendation to, "shake the hand that feeds us" because only as we develop an intimate relationship with the substances constituting the sacred act of eating will we truly know what to eat and how to eat it. Deeply in agreement with my recent read of The Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein, In Defense of Food is more rational as opposed to spiritual but still just as revolutionary....more info
  • Paradigm Shift!
    Loved it. Changed how I eat - completely! Not about which fats or carbs you should or shouldn't eat. Fantastic. READ THIS BOOK! then grow your own veggies!...more info
  • You'll read it in a day but remember it for a long time
    This book is excellent, mostly because of the references you'll find to other books. Very good research into a subject that matters to us all. A good starting point into the problems and rewards of eating well....more info
  • Against 'nutritionism'
    Michael Pollan, professor of journalism at Berkeley, is a prolific writer on food and food-related issues, which have drawn much attention in the United States in recent years. After his more historical and philosophical works, "In Defense of Food" is a practical guide to and defense of food. To be precise, food as opposed to processed, additive-filled, can-conserved and/or microwavable goo that passes for food in most of our Western supermarkets.

    Pollan uses a pleasant style and a usefully skeptical attitude towards the faddish nutritional science of the past decades to launch a critique on the industrial process of food production in the Western world, which has made us at the same time less healthy, fatter, and less nourished. As Pollan shows, typical 'rich' diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, coronary disease, stroke and so forth are directly and invariably correlated to following the broadly defined 'Western diet' (which despite Pollan using this name is really mostly the American diet). This, in turn, is caused partially by an excessive focus on single 'good' or 'bad' nutrients in food science, which eliminates both the interplay of various elements in given foodstuffs as they relate to our health, partially by the social and cultural contexts of food being ignored in such science, leading to useless and confusing study results, and finally in part by the food industry bribing and cajoling governments and researchers alike to make these practices suit their profit needs. He calls this 'nutritionism', following an Australian researcher on the same topic.

    Although Pollan's critique is backward-looking in the sense of supporting traditional conceptions of food, where food is healthy qua food, not because of one or another 'good' nutrient du jour being part of it, its radical nature is by no means to be underestimated. Consistently, at times even repetitively, Pollan shows chapter after chapter how all the negative effects associated with the American way of eating as well as the 'food' consumed are the result of the modern agrocapitalist food industry and its unrestrained victory over any standards of healthcare or regulation other than removing explicit poison (and even that not always).

    As alternative, Pollan proposes methods of food production that eliminate the artificial focus on individual nutrients as well as restoring the social context of meals in the classic sense, which implies eating natural, unaltered foods (organic or better), eating them in normal quantities, and taking your time with the meal to enjoy it. He summarizes his basic viewpoint as "eat food, not too much, mostly plants", but expands upon this in the final chapter to give some more detailed considerations on what kind of attitude to take to choosing food in our kind of society.

    In a pleasant change from the normal faddish type of diet advice book, he actually looks at the structural issues around the production of food, not just choice of specific nutrients in them, and he gives tips on what kind of things to consider when choosing rather than telling the reader specifically what kind of food to eat. This is indeed a great advancement and for that reason this book is certainly to be recommended. The only downsides are a gratuitous and unnecessarily anti-socialist attitude (he repeatedly compares things he doesn't like to Marxism or the Soviet Union, even though that has no relation to the topic whatsoever), and the fact his critique gets a little repetitive over time....more info
  • Ayurveda and Food equals Health & Longevity
    This book is welcome. I use it together with the Yale University School of Medicine Dr. Frank John Ninivaggi book: Ayurveda: A Comprehensive Guide To Traditional Indian Medicine for the West. Both give practical info about how and what to east for great health in body, mind, and spirit. I recommend them both....more info
  • a useful reminder to us all
    Everyone will find this book worth reading. If nothing else, it will remind you to keep some degree of necessary skepticism when presented with the next nutrition claims and fads. His arguement is simple: stop worrying about "nutrients" and just enjoy a diet rich in a variety of real, whole foods. If we can do this while exercising good judgement and portion control, we will live happier, healthier lives. The only dilemna I see to this advice is that it is actually difficult to find/afford to buy whole foods in today's supermarkets. Not everyone has access to buying organics (not that he recommends this as our only option), and produce is really so much more expensive than the processed "foodlike substances" that fill most of the aisles in the grocery store... ...more info
  • aahhh
    The first 100 or so pages kept putting me to sleep. I found the second half where he focused on a Western diet more informational.

    I found his discussion of how we can't really isolate a nutrient in studies to truly determine it's health benefit intersting and logical. I agreed that there needs to more talk about the synergestic effects of say the benefit of eating a tomato with olive oil when talking about benefits of nutrients in foods....more info
  • Good book to read
    This is a good book to understand what is so wrong with our eating habits today....more info
  • Good but not worth it if you have Omnivore's Dilema
    Let me say that on its own this is a very good book. Pollan does a great job of talking about how much of the "science" behind the nutrition claims of journalists and doctors is basically bunk and often may do more harm than good. He then goes onto explain what parts of the Western Diet (processed foods, industrial foods, corn syrup, hydrogenated corn) may be causing so many of the Chronic diseases) and some basic rules to live by for eating food.
    That said, there is not much in this book that I did not already learn from Omnivore's Dilemma. The book read more like another chapter to Omnivore's dilemma than a stand alone book. So hence the three stars since I think its just okay if you have read Omnivore's, however if you haven't i would say this is more like 4.5 stars...more info
  • Blew Through This GREAT Book
    This should be mandatory reading. I like the structure: tripartite, 1. breaking down the emergence of 'nutritionism' (the doctrine that food should be measured by the recognizable component nutrient values), and debunking it, brilliantly through the lipid hypothesis (fat is bad), 2. The pathological component: 'Western Diseases' and the search for a unified field theory nutritional equivalent, then 3. Getting Over Nutritionism, which is a set of prescriptive ways to avoid the foregone horrors, delivered as a fusion of deadpan and Lutherian theses.

    What's great about this book is that, without an ounce of (deserved) hysteria, it empties both barrels into all the culprits whose role in what has become institutionalized mass murder has been for whatever reason off limits. Surprisingly, it's in some of the indictments that don't go far enough that the only disappointments lurk. For example, there's a longish discussion of the nurses studies that were the source of many of the errors, but no discussion of the worst such mistake: the emergence of HRT as a general purpose solution for menapause, which literally ended up killing millions (when HRT was finally stopped in its tracks, breast cancer rates dropped 15%).

    Actually, the best thing about this book is that the devolution of food (through corruption) that is detailed here can be read as an allegory for the culture at large: reductionism, the subjugation of all things to the short term interest of the sellers, the absence of said agents when the downstream costs explode on their victims. Though the book does read amazingly well on the two levels simultaneously, I ended up wishing that the author spent some energy widening his gaze to try and understand how some of these mishaps occurred. For instance, the nutritionism diatribe discusses the part/whole shortcomings brought on by reductionism. Not unlike what happened when Utilitarianism emerged in philosophy in the 19th Century. There are many places where the simple process of even making hypotheses is not just questioned, but likened to something akin to insanity. It would have been great if there were some discussion of the fact that 'science' education generally means no exposure to philosophy or rhetoric, or process theory for that matter, and the results have been horrific.

    A must read....more info


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