In Defense of Food

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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

"What to eat, what not to eat, and how to think about health: a manifesto for our times 'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, the well-considered answers he provides to the questions posed in the bestselling The Omnivore's Dilemma. Humans used to know how to eat well, Pollan argues. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated, and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists--all of whom have much to gain from our dietary confusion. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." These "edible foodlike substances" are often packaged with labels bearing health claims that are typically false or misleading. Indeed, real food is fast disappearing from the marketplace, to be replaced by "nutrients," and plain old eating by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Michael Pollan's sensible and decidedly counterintuitive advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food." Writing In Defense of Food, and affirming the joy of eating, Pollan suggests that if we would pay more for better, well-grown food, but buy less of it, we'll benefit ourselves, our communities, and the environment at large. Taking a clear-eyed look at what science does and does not know about the links between diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about the question of what to eat that is informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach. In Defense of Food reminds us that, despite the daunting dietary landscape Americans confront in the modern supermarket, the solutions to the current omnivore's dilemma can be found all around us. In looking toward traditional diets the world over, as well as the foods our families--and regions--historically enjoyed, we can recover a more balanced, reasonable, and pleasurable approach to food. Michael Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we might start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives and enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy.

Customer Reviews:

  • Should be required reading
    This is one of the best books that I have ever read on the subject. It clearly gives you a picture of how our relationship with food as an american has changed over the years and the forces that are driving the change. I recommend that everyone read this book. ...more info
  • Shame on the reader!
    Love the book, despise the reader, Scott Brick. Talk about a condescending, drippily sarcastic, over-pronounced performance - it's not listenable. Pollan's voice in my head when I read the book was reasonable in spite of its strong message. Brick makes it as nasty as right wing radio. What a waste of money and time. ...more info
  • very SLOW service
    The book came over a month after I ordered it. The seller was responsive, however, and offered to give a full refund if it didn't come by a certain date....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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  • 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
  • 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.
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  • Good book, could be half as long
    I have read a handful of books about food and diet. I may not be the target for this book. I'm skinny and eat mostly non-meat food anyways.

    It is an interesting book, but I actually found myself zoning out, skipping paragraphs, then pages, then a whole section at the beginning. I already think our processed food culture is messed up, and he does go on and on about that if you need to be convinced. It is best when he references a specific study or the history of how grain was processed.

    The author also rehashes the same points over and over again, and then at parts even summarizes what he will talk about in the next chapter. Reminds me of one of my papers from high school where I was trying to fill pages.

    So far I found other books like "Healthy at 100" to be far more inspiring, engaging and informative.

    My rating is a bit harsh probably, and I can see for some readers this being a great book on the topic of food and diet. It is an important issue that we will face more and more....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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Great Information, interesting reading!
    Not only does Michael Pollan give you some of the best information on food that is available today he gives it to you in an interesting manner. Everyone who eats food should read this book and it should be required reading for every High School student too....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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Fantastic, Simple and Eye-Opening
    "In Defense of Food" is a rare and fantastic book. Rare in the sense that the core message of the book is articulated in seven words right on the cover of the book ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."). Fantastic in the sense that the author, Michael Pollan, reveals a tremendous amount about a vast subject in a non-judgemental, yet informative, manner in a small number of pages.

    Despite my accolades, it is difficult to articulate exactly *what* this book is about...Pollan covers such a vast terrain in this book, and conveys such a powerful set of messages, that it really is about a lot of important things. Simply put, this rare book is about "food," but there is much more to it than the cover or any synopsis might suggest.

    I highly recommend this book to all readers. It is uncommon to find a book that casts such a revealing light on topics of wide importance and interest (food and health, among others). I learned a great deal in this book and it has made me look at the manner in which food is produced, marketed and consumed in new and different ways....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
  • 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
  • In Defense of Food a Winner
    The book was a requirement for a college class. This was the easiest purchase of material yet! No searching in a bookstore or standing in lines. Just get on the computer and's done. The book arrived quickly, was very reasonably priced, and in great condition. I see an A in my future....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
  • Eat better, live longer
    Here's a quick synopsis, but I strongly recommend you read this book and formulate your own opinions.

    Don't shop supermarks..but if you must, stay outside of the middle aisles. Keep to the produce/meat/dairy sections which undoubtedly are located on the perimeters. Eat organic, if you can and your budget permits. Organic vegetables/fruits contain more micronutrients than those that are laced with pesticides and grown in chemically enriched soils. Utilize your local farmers' market, keep money in your community and out of corporations. Eat a diverse diet. Don't eat fat-free versions of food that shouldn't be fat-free (eg. fat free cheese, fat free chocolate, fat free butter). Eat less but better quality meats. Cereal isn't as good as advertised. Food should expire [with the exception of honey], if it doesn't, don't eat it. And most importantly, eat ethnic foods, the Western diet is the downfall of health care in America....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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Wonderful.
    I absolutely enjoyed this book. Insightful without being preachy. Smart without being too complicated. It is simple and thought-provoking without being boring or overly wordy. Though I don't agree with everything in this book, Pollan makes great arguments for his opinions and backs it up with plenty of research. If you like nutrition or food in general, this is a worthwhile read....more info
  • Well Written and Thought Provoking
    I'll never feel the same way about food ever again. This isn't an "eat this, don't eat that" kind of book -it's much better! I had no idea that the food industry is so political and that nutritional science is, well, not so scientific.

    This is an easy read without being dumbed-down. I like the casual and sometimes comedic voice of Michael Pollan and I have been inspired to change the way I eat. In fact, I already have!...more info
  • What & How We Should Eat
    I already knew I would like this book before I read it. What food items we see advertised on television and what colorfully and cleverly packaged items we find in mass quantities on our grocery store shelves is not really food. To quote the author-Instead of food, we are consuming "edible foodlike substances"-no longer the products of nature but of food science. I have believed for years that we have over processed and over industrialized our diets. If you really want to learn some cold hard facts, check out the Nutrition Action Newsletter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
    There is real food out there and that is what we should be eating......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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • One of Us...One of Us..join us..forever and...ever
    I have to say I'm prejudiced towards this kind of book that offers the reader a "lifestyle". With that said, I probably follow a lot of the ideas in the book, but I didn't have to read the thing to come to obvious conclusions like eating fewer portions of food will make you thinner. Really? Processed food is bad for me? Wow, I've been living a lie.

    Though it won't explain how some people live healthy and long lives and they eat crap, drink too much, and smoke.

    I'm impressed with the way these books tend to spread through the NPR-New Yorker crowd and make everyone jump all over themselves with enthusiasm. I heard Pollan on NPR and it seemed that his "wisdom of the grandmother" was a little too wistful and a bit false.

    My grandmother smoked like a chimney and boiled the hell out of everything that she cooked, draining most of those nutrients out the door. Maybe if I had super-Oma or idealized nanna, she might have opened the oracle and showed me the way to live better and not be so nasty.

    We eat differently than people two generations ago. To compare they way we eat to the way they ate is loaded with comparisons that don't make much sense because the conditions are much different. Processed food was not nearly as pervasive as it is now.

    After reading the Jungle, I don't think anyone is going to make the case that sausage from a local company counts as "good honest" food compared to the way that some larger companies load their meats up with preservatives and fillers. Given a choice between a rat or some guy's finger and MSG, I think I'll go with the MSG.

    It will be interesting to see what the next fad will be. Maybe it will be that processed food is better for us. I can't help thinking about that scene in Woody Allen's now dated film Sleeper, where a man wakes up in a totalitarian future to find two people trying to explain what his "health food store" was all about while they explain that smoking was found to be healthy and red meat was also good, especially when it's fried....more info
  • A Remarkable Argument for Whole Foods
    The cover reads, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Just common sense, right? Not as it turns out. Pollan does a masterful job of critiquing the modern Western diet, which--over the past four or five generations--has taken us a long way from what is good for us. In a simpler era our forebears grew, raised, hunted, caught, and cooked their own Food (yes, that is food with a capital F in the sense that the author uses it). What we mostly eat these days is processed foods, what he calls "foodlike substances." Why do we do this? Because what Pollan calls the pseudo-science of "nutritionism" has taken the complex gestalt of Food and analyzed it by its component parts (e.g., types of fats and sugars) and then given yeas and nays about each one separately, ignoring the context and synergy of nutrition as a whole. When looked at piecemeal, these components rise and fall in popularity, leading to competing health claims and confusion in the mind of the eating public. In truth, our modern diet consists largely of processed corn, soybeans, rice, and wheat; it lacks the variety to give us the nutrition we need.

    Ah, and then there is the food industry and its clever machinations. It has determined that we are genetically programmed to crave refined carbohydrates, which are not necessarily good for us but which sell in abundance. And Food once stripped of its essential nutrients has a longer shelf life than the real deal, increasing profits. Furthermore, the industry can take advantage of current health claims and use them as effective advertising, whether they are true or false. It's always easy enough to change a label once the fad passes. And we consumers, I no less than anyone else, get sucked in by that power slogan of "convenience."

    Pollan exhorts us to "eat organic," whose benefits many of us do not understand fully (until we read this book). Long story short, the commercial produce and livestock industries have overused fertilizers and pesticides and growth hormones to increase yield, resulting in an unwanted chemical invasion of our bodies and an appalling drop in the nutritional quality of the food produced (read page 118 for sample percentages). To make up for the nutrients lost, we tend--and are encouraged--to eat more. The result, of course, is food-related health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer . . . which we then treat with pharmaceuticals, further encouraging the Trojan Horse. Pollan describes us as "both overfed and undernourished." He also urges us to move from eating seeds to leaves, which he calls "almost, if not quite, a Theory of Everything." And, yes, vegetarians are less susceptible to most of the Western diseases . . .

    But my favorite part of the book was the last section where Pollan (1) defines what he means by Food, (2) tells us what to eat, and (3) describes how to eat it. He gives us a "couple dozen rules" to translate his somewhat scholarly book into practical advice for making what amounts to a major lifestyle change for a lot of us. I got this book hoping for new information, but what I came away with was a better understanding of the simple-yet-complex act of eating. If you make one investment in your health this year, this book would be a very good start.
    ...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
  • Good book to read
    This is a good book to understand what is so wrong with our eating habits today....more info
  • 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
  • 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
  • opened my eyes
    This book really opened my eyes to reasons why no "diet" I had tried ever worked. The way Pollan presented all of the research that had failed, then was swept under the rug by both the government and the food industry because it was not in either of their interests for that information to come out was easy to understand, and easy to come to the conclusions that Pollan has drawn. It is sad that the many people who did attempt to put out the research before were not capable or forgotten. I think that going back to a more antiquated style of eating, in both form and substance, is something all Americans need to do. We have not been eating food for many years, but "food," and that needs to change....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
  • 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
  • Interesting and Well Written
    First, it's obvious the author put in his research. This is the first book I've read by Mr Pollan and I found it to be a quick, enjoyable read. The book doesn't really bring anything new to the table (no pun intended) but does bring it all together quite concisely. The information on misguided nutritionism is very interesting. I recommend this book to anyone who cares about what they put into their body....more info
  • Works For Me
    Let me start out by saying that I am not a Doctor, have never played one on TV, and didn't stay at a Holiday Inn last night. Consult your physician before you take any of my advise.

    That being said; I read this book last August and 5 months later, and 20 pounds lighter, my cardiologist is thrilled. By following the author's 3 simple rules (Eat food, not too much, mostly plants) I've lowered my cholesterol to 69 LDL (45HDL) and dropped my triglycerides from 150 to 100.

    Now I just eat REAL food whenever I'm hungry. It took about 5-6 weeks until my body caught on to the fact that it wasn't going to get an instant dose of glucose from candy, cookies, sodas, baguettes, or juice. After that it got easy. My food started tasting better, I started feeling MUCH better, and all those clothes in the back of my closet started to fit.

    Eggs, bacon, and whole milk are back in our refrigerator to stay. I make my own salad dressing and bread. Gathering and preparing our meals is a bit more costly and time consuming but, trust me on this, it is SOOOO worth it.

    Thank you Michael Pollan!!...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


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