A few days ago a friend asked me if I counted calories, because she was considering it and wanted my opinion. I promptly recommended she read this book.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto is direct, informative, and entertaining, true to Pollan form. Just as I predicted, I loved it. I’ve already recommended it to four others besides my contemplating-calorie-counting friend.
Pollan leads the reader through nutritionism and the Western diet and both of their histories (which often overlap). He discusses the consequences of both (and the influence of food marketing), including, but not limited to, heart disease, weight gain, and teeth that don’t last.
After reading this book, both my mom and I have gotten in the habit of labeling processed foods “foodlike substances.” It’s almost become a game with us. Food or “foodlike substance”? Wonderful supermarket entertainment. Thank you, Michael Pollan, for finally coining a great phrase to simply define packaged, processed junk.
Perhaps the biggest surprise which awaited me in this book was Pollan’s take on nutritionism. When I first read what Pollan has to say about nutritionism, I nearly put the book down. I, like so many others, had grown accustomed to nutritionism dictating what we eat. It is science, after all, and our generation is so used to allowing scientists the final say. However, Pollan once again uses common sense to hit me in the face. I now strive to avoid anything that lists its carbohydrate count. This book helped me realize there is so much we don’t know about food — nature still baffles us. Nutrition science is useful for interpreting food, but as Pollan makes abundantly clear, it is a terrible way to eat.
As Pollan suggests in his introductory chapter, this book is an excellent companion to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, however, it is possible to enjoy this book on its own, and for some I would probably recommend it. Defense is more accessible than Dilemma because it deals more directly with the averse affects of the Western diet on individuals rather than the broad-spectrum, global take Dilemma has. I would say Dilemma is for the very serious, eco-savvy foodie and Defense is more a very informative diet book, a must-read for anyone who plans to eat anything in contemporary society.
Perhaps what I like most about this book is Pollan’s opening line: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Concise, direct, simplified. Doesn’t get any better than that.