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Review: In Defense of Food

“Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

The simple but appropriate philosophy of Michael Pollan in his brief book In Defense of Food.

I just finished  this easy read (seriously…two days) and thought it warranted a mention/review.  Michael Pollan is more widely-know for his previous book Omnivore’s Dilemma, which is currently sitting on my desk and waiting to be picked up, and this is actually the sequel, of sorts, to that one.  It’s basically “what should I eat?  And why?”

It boils down to this:  Food scientists don’t really know what they are taking about.  When they say things like “Eat more Omega-3s!” and we all rush out and start taking Omega-3 pills and eating Omega-3 fortified eggs, we’re not doing much for ourselves.  Not that Omega-3s aren’t spectacular for us, but what makes them so spectacular is how they work in combination with all of the other nutrients and vitamins in the foods they are found in.  In other words:  Salmon and Purslane are great for you, but it isn’t just the Omega-3s that do it.   Now this isn’t that food scientists are out to get us or are intentionally leading us astray, it is just that they are working against almost insurmountable difficulties trying to figure out the complexities that are foods.  Do you have any idea how intricate the make-up of Broccoli is?

He makes the point that most of these foods that we eat that proclaim themselves to be the vehicles to good health are the ones that we should be the most dubious of.  Mostly because they are A) packaged (when in itself is a bad sign for food) and B) created in a lab somewhere (which is a REALLY bad sign for food).  His rules for eating are simple:  Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t have recognized, don’t eat anything you haven’t heard of or can’t pronounce, and don’t eat anything with more than 5 ingredients in it.  (And I should clarify that by this, he doesn’t mean you can’t eat a Quiche that is made of 9 things, but that you shouldn’t eat “butter” that has 9 ingredients in it.  Butter should have two ingredients.)

He spends a lot of time talking about “The French Paradox” which is the famous fact that French people eat what food scientists and doctors are telling us are terrible for us yet they are (mostly) slender, healthy, and less prone to the diseases that plague “the Western diet.”  And yet Americans are cramming their gullets with “fat-free” and “healthy” foods and we are consistently getting fatter and more diabetic and dying in shocking numbers of food-related diseases. 

I’m sure you’ve all known that girl or guy who only eats Lean Quisines and Snackwell’s cookies and drinks naught but Diet Coke and yet can’t, for their life, manage to drop any weight and are the most likely to be diabetic or cholesterol-ridden.  Michael Pollan’s point is that it’s because they are filling themselves with garbage and chemicals that the body has no idea what to do with.  We are trying to subsist on manufactured, made-up nutrients and we aren’t built to run on that. 

We need food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.


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