Sunday, October 5, 2008

#4 - "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food written by Michael Pollan and published in 2008 appears to be something of a follow-up book to The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I read not too long ago after spotting it while browsing in The Tattered Cover. So when I saw this new, much thinner book by Pollan, I wanted to read what else he had to say on the subject.

In Defense of Food is a quick overview of Pollan's learned opinion of what kinds of food are healthiest and what foods we should be eating. This isn't any kind of diet guide and it's certainly doesn't give specific directions, but instead states general guidelines that should make Americans healthier. Pollan isn't a scientist and although he seems well-informed on his subject, it seems as though his conclusions are coming from common sense more than any factual or scientific backing. But his conclusions are persuasive and, in my opinion, correct, and it is refreshing to read a book on healthy eating that doesn't get bogged down in the fad diets of today.

The first seven words pretty much sum up all of his advice. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It is clear, concise, and incredibly helpful. I can just imagine how better off the American population would be if they could just take it to heart. Pollan makes the point that nutrition scientists and the food industry have a vested interest in having the American public confused about what is good and what is bad to eat when it's really not that complicated. I think this is also true in the diet industry. There are a million commercials, magic pills, and secret diets that makes people think that dieting is some complicated scientific endeavor that they could never do on their own when the truth is that losing weight is incredibly simple. Eat less calories than you burn and you will lose weight. Making it more complicated only muddles matters and distracts from what should be the main focus.

I enjoyed this book and certainly agreed with some of his "rules" printed throughout the book, including: Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup; Avoid food products that make health claims; Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle; and Get out of the supermarket whenever possible (as in, go to farmers markets, not go out to eat).

My only complaint is that in parts of the book I felt that Pollan was getting bogged down in the very nutrition science that he is complaining about. Pollan acknowledges this and I guess it is inevitable as it is the only information we have about the healthfulness of our foods, but you can find a study saying anything, so I find studies on food somewhat tedious to read about.

For some reason I find these books about food incredibly interesting. I first read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which influenced me enough to buy a breadmaker that I now use exclusively. Then I read Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I also enjoyed and probably those two books encouraged me to cut down on some of the processed foods I was eating, although I was already eating a pretty healthy diet. And now with this book, I think my resolution will be to cut down even more on processed foods, try to cook and bake more of my own food and see how far I can go. I'm not much of a grower, but if I were and had some land, I would totally grow a garden. But my specific plans are a little less grand and a little more realistic. I have decided to switch to bulk oatmeal instead of the Kashi packages of oatmeal. Just one ingredient and cheaper too! Baby steps.

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