Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Review: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: April 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0143114963

MSRP: $15.00

Format: Mass market paperback

Available from

I enjoy a good conspiracy theory every once in a while. But sometimes you get a book that is disturbing because it isn't a theory, it is actually based in fact. Take everything you have learned about nutrition from the food pyramid to your "recommended daily allowances" and toss it out the window. Because since the 1980's Americans haven't been eating "food." Nope, we have eating "food products" or "food substitutes" and that is an entirely different ballgame.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, is a call to action to defend real food. The book makes a startling point, that as we become increasingly consumed with issues of health, we have become increasingly unhealthy. The problem isn't low-fat, trans-fat, poly-unsaturated fat, or any other evil nutrient, but rather the fact that most of the "food science" that goes into making new food products has no science backing it up. Our great grandparents all lived long and healthy lives with out any of these specially formulated foods. So, it stands to reason that the problem is that Americans have simply stopped eating food.

Pollan systematically goes through the current nutritional advice and pokes holes into each theroy. He also points out numerous food scandals in which we have been told by the FDA or scientist to consume some nutrient over another only to find out that that advice had dire impacts on our health. (Of course, each of these past scandals have been swept under the rug, so this is the first time you will hear about them.) So in the end, what is a girl to do? According to Pollan, we don't need food pyramids, recommended daily allowances or anything else. We just need seven simple words, "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Pollan describes these 3 tenants in more detail in the book, but it is basically a lot of common sense. If it has more than 5 ingredients, ingredients you can't pronounce and doesn't resemble the animal or plant is supposed to come from? It probably isn't food. Oh and if someone goes through great pains (a lot of marketing dollars) to convince you that something is health? Chances are it isn't!

This is a good read for anyone and everyone. You see TV ads all the time sponsored by some food lobby and you can't help but believe something is true after it hearing it so many times. And surely, if it wasn't true, they wouldn't let them put false labels on boxes or make false claims, right? Wrong! Most of those claims are considered marketing and don't need to be backed by science or testing. And most of the claims are subjective anyway.

But a really "fun" game to play after reading this book is to go through your home pantry and see how much in it is actually food and how much are engineered food products. It was pretty disturbing and enlightening when I opened up my refrigerator. I would say only about 20% of the "food" in my cabinets could actually be defined as food... Another good book to check out is Skinny Bitch by Roy Freedman and Kim Barnouin. After reading it, you will never want to drink a glass of milk again. I don't care how cool those "got milk" ads are!



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