"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of food journalist Pollan's thesis. Humans used to know how to eat well, he argues, but the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." Indeed, plain old eating is being replaced by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Pollan's advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food." Looking at what science does and does not know about diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about what to eat, informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the nutrient-by-nutrient approach.--From publisher description.
But Michael Pollan’s book did convert me. Over the last two years, I have changed my eating habits—not as much as I hoped I would, but significantly nonetheless. The problem is, as I am sure anyone else knows who has also tried to follow his path: eating healthy in modern, urban America is extremely difficult.
Omnivore’s Dilemma went on to become a nationwide bestseller. Thanks in part to the stir that book caused, and the many newspaper articles and television programs that followed, there has been a small but noticeable difference in the availability of healthier, more naturally produced vegetables, fruits, meats, and fish in the area where I live. Merchants now appear to be very conscious of the fact that many buyers are eager to know how and where each batch of produce was grown; whether fish is wild or farm-raised; and whether meats, dairy products, and eggs come from range-, grass- or grain-fed animals. In our area, the local farmers’ markets are thriving, and the supermarkets…well, they don’t seem to be doing so well anymore. Instead there are a number of small health food chains opening up that seem to be robbing the supermarkets of a large portion of their business. People are starting to vote with their forks. They are saying they want better quality food, and slowly, their voice is being heard.
When I heard that Pollan had a new book out—In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,—I jumped at the chance to be one of the first to buy it. It is a small book, easy and quick to read. I finished it in one enjoyable afternoon. Frankly, there is not much in this new book that wasn’t already covered in Omnivore’s Dilemma. However, what this new book accomplishes that the previous book did not, is to present the basic concepts—about what is wrong with the modern Western diet and what we can do to eat in a more healthy manner—in a far more concise and readable form. Gone are the stories, the humor, the horror, the amusing dialogue, and the semitravelogue—all that was, for me at least, very delightful—but it also made the book perhaps too long and chatty for some, especially those just seeking a quick, focused, factual read. This book will most certainly appeal to a wider audience. It reads more like a practical manual for the general public.
I was hoping this new book might give me some further clues. It did that, but not as much as I had hoped. Nevertheless, I am happy that I purchased it, and read it. The most important thing it did for me was to reinforce all the lessons I’d learned from Omnivore’s Dilemma, and to present them to me with more justifications and updated scientific findings.
Hopefully, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto will go on to become another national bestseller, and in the process continue to spread Pollan’s healthy food revolution. A Manifesto sounds serious and political and Pollan speaks in the book about people voting with their forks. It must be working, because many of the folks in my neighborhood appear to be voting with their forks, and the local farmers, ranchers, and grocery people are listening. There is a small revolution stirring and perhaps this book will help move it along.
I recommend this book highly to all who have not yet read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and to those that have, I recommend this book as an inspirational updated refresher course.
1) Stay out of all but the 'outside' isles of the supermarket.
2) Eat all-natural and/or whole foods whenever you can.
3) High fructose corn syrup is the devil. ;o)
This book is both highly informative and engaging. I'll be loaning this one out for years.
He gives easy to understand explanations, somewhat supported by experts, although I'm not quite ready to totally buy something because "scientists commonly report", or 'are heavily leaning toward', etc. The author does point out that all of these theories about what is healthy or not is cyclical, and heavily dependent on the science of the moment.
He makes a cogent agument for returning to the days of grandma, before we started tinkering with foods and making claims for health by eating this or that. He is especially believable in the campaign against engineered foods (or food products as he is quick to emphasize.)
The book features several "food statements" AKA rules that make quite a bit of sense drawn up to help people return to eating the diet he claims human beings are biologically designed to eat. Among them:
Eat well grown food from well-known sources.
Have a glass of wine with dinner.
Do all your eating at a table.
Try not to eat alone.
Cook your own food and plant a garden.
I learned a lot reading this and would recommend it to anyone interested in sorting through the current maze of food/eating gospels.
Indeed it seems likely that I represent the intended target of this book. For one thing, as I frequently found myself reading this with a fistfull of Doritos in one hand and a diet soft drink in the other, it stands to reason that I might revisit my dietary intake. Another point expounded upon by the author – and one that I’ve always utilized to carry on with my dismal nutritional system – is that the onslaught of “scientific” studies by nutritionists is mostly a load of crap. I started sensing this in the eighties when every two weeks or so the nutritional paradigm would transform (“It’s the fat stupid!” … “No, no, it’s the carbs” … “turns out that study last Tuesday is false - we need more ethoxylated diglycerides…”). “Screw it – where’s the Fruit Roll-ups!” I might have thought had I not already realized those are a bit disgusting.
Am I now only eating from an organic Farmers Market stall or planting some fruit tree in my landlord’s backyard? Highly unlikely as I was recently introduced to Five Guys Burgers in DC (at least they assured me that “today’s potatoes” are straight from Griggs, Idaho). But I might eat a fruit once in a while, and I already reintroduced carrots a couple weeks back. So, if the cigs don’t do me in, perhaps I’ll add a couple diabetes-free years. This is a very interesting book.
If I have to be critical – and certainly I do – I would point out that, whereas the criticism of “Nutritionism” as a reductive exercise is right on (that is, one that forgets about “food” holistically to merely analyze individual chemical components), I feel the author’s argument is a bit too non-scientific, as seemingly common sense as much of it is. Indeed, he points out that the complexity of nutrients and their interrelations are perhaps impossible to really get a handle on. Therefore, as we’ve all seen, nutritional studies, claims, and sale’s pitches are always subject to revision three days hence. But his response tends to come off as too pat, occasionally lacking the desired footnote or supporting evidence. One in particular was his quick dismissal of the life expectancy increase in the US since 1900 as mainly due to a reduction in the rate infant mortality. That makes sense but I don’t recall ever reading that this was “the” primary factor (and don’t they statistically correct for this anyway? I dunno…). No other reference is provided. Additionally, towards the end he gets a bit too cozy with the possible health benefits of Omega 3 while denouncing our current excess of it’s #6 counterpart. This may be correct but it’s the one area of the text where he sounds like the food scientists he’s critiquing (admittedly he throws in a “maybe” towards the end).
But all-in-all, direct pronouncements and certain brevity are the hallmark of any good manifesto, and I feel this is a convincing diatribe against the “Western Diet.” At the very least I can make better informed, obnoxious comments about the low fat, 2% skim milk cheese sticks my wife frequently purchases. I can also add this supermarket analogy to Pollan’s “if it says ‘healthy,’ it ain’t” observation. Yesterday when rolling my processed-food-filled cart by the impulse aisle, I noticed some frightening “Collectors Edition” Michael Jackson tribute magazine. As a former baseball card connoisseur I would advise that if something says “Collector” anything – don’t buy it as it will lose value quicker than the 1923 Deutsche Mark.
He goes on long jags citing huge percentage of Americans that are obese, that are consuming more of x, y or z. And the people most likely to read this, including me, are thinking: "I'm not fat. I don't eat stuff like that. They don't resemble my friends or cohorts. Who precisely are we talking about? Would hints about a particular region or class help out?" Does anyone now reading this need to be told to avoid eating Twinkies and nondairy creamer? Pollan thinks so! When he launches into Wonder Bread, you start to wonder if he's back in a time warp, say circa 1970. He may next have disclosed shocking news about Pringles, fast food, TV dinners, Coke and Cheez Whiz, but I admit I didn't read the whole book. I'm pretty sure, though, that he never explained where transfats are lurking.
He does mention the problems of aborigines and Native Americans, their sudden shift in diet, high rates of diabetes ... and how an experiment in back to nature reversed many of their problems ...but once again, how many of those folks are reading this book? The big appeal of OD was that the middle-class, picky eater reader could vicariously accompany the author on his quest and in his cooking.
OK, I didn't finish it, but I read almost the whole thing, including the final two chapters and I didn't learn much after the first few chapters. For example, apparently animal fat (for cooking, in meat and in dairy products) isn't as bad as was once thought. Yet Americans drastically reduced consumption of it in the past few decades. Maybe cooking with corn oil is worse, Or maybe not. Nevernonetheless, does he mean it doesn't make much sense to be drinking soy milk instead of cow's milk? Or 2 percent cow's milk instead of the whole milk? What kind of oil should one be cooking with? Only olive oil? You do not get answers to such questions. Butter can be substituted for margarine with a clear conscience? Not that I've ever bought the latter stuff but I guess I thought it and some other weird low-fat creations were recommended for heart patients.
Of course there are interesting parts. Such as: how the wholesale shift to grains was relatively recent in human existence. And how we're very suddenly consuming a great deal of soy products (so tofu? and tempeh and what have you?) and soy ingredients ... but what should you do about that or how much is too much? Well, he doesn't get into that.
Late in the game he refers approvingly to "the ancient Asian practice of fermenting soy and eating soy in the form of curds" (but isn't too much soy bad?). My mind wandered off ... Indians don't eat tofu, or any soy products that I can think of.. To the extent that Thais, Malaysians or Indonesians do, they've picked it up fairly recently from Chinese immigrants. Even in Japan, the word for tofu is obviously Chinese. Shouldn't he know how it fits into Chinese cooking?
I just opened the book, near the end, where we get back to his ahem sage advice about not eating too much and mostly eating plants (so soybeans are ok then?). And he goes into a ridiculous chapter re "don't eat what your grandmother or great-grandmother wouldn't recognize." Starting with some kind of tube yogurt.
Now altogether readers are griping, "But I don't eat that crap!" After all, it's so easy to make yogurt at home. (Except, wait a minute, are we or are we not supposed to be consuming whole fat/2 percent and/or skim milk?) Only one of my grandmas is likely to have recognized yogurt or any soy foods. Neither would have eaten yogurt. Definitely none of the great-grandparents would have. So I shouldn't? Next item on the shopping list he mentions is something like a sugary "breakfast bar." Are warnings about such processed food really news for his readers?
The warning about great/grandparents is so stupid because today in markets there are so many veggies and fruits and spices and grains and noodles and such that are wonderful, far better foods than our grandmothers regularly consumed. How many of them had refrigerators their whole lives?
Seems especially dumb when so many, maybe the majority, of readers, like Pollan himself, have immigrant grandparents. When it gets to great-grandparents, that probably is a majority of Americans. He himself mentions how quickly the diet changed--from his Eastern European grandmother to his mother to his present household. Then he forgets all about it. In my case, cabbage and potatoes don't sound like an especially healthy or appealing diet. Corned beef was a real luxury, Grandma said. And an orange only for Xmas? I doubt her family ever had that. Bananas were probably even less common.
Thinking of great-grandmothers and foods I frequently eat is a subtraction exercise: out rambutans, mangos, probably grapefruit and pineapples, definitely guava, pita bread, chick peas, eggplants, squash, bulgar, lentils, coconut derivatives, everything in fatoosh, olives, various mushrooms and seeds. Even manaw, the spherical limes I use in tea everyday. Tonight I was eating some humble 50-cent phat thai, surely fried in palm oil (supposedly bad for the heart, but you won't learn from this book). Maybe the great-grandmothers would recognize the noodles as food, but the tofu? chillis? bean sprouts? Definitely not bamboo shoots or little greens from banana plants.
When you start thinking about why people emigrated ... look for ideas of the narrow diet and nutrition related illnesses in the developing world.
I also have my doubts about some of the trad'l cuisines he applauds in passing. Take the Japanese. I've lived in Japan. Fish sounds fine, tho I don't know about such huge amounts of raw fish. But the trad'l way of consuming vegetables is by pickling them. Having gotten refrigerators rather late, and having very small cooking facilities, whatever ... Japanese still eat a lot of pickled and salted stuff. Is that so healthy? Ditto frying (not just stir frying) so much fish and chicken. Not to mention the very decided preference for white rice. To the extent brown rice is appearing, probably Western expatriates deserve credit; they certainly do in Thailand.
Japan's is not a culture that you associate with leafy greens (that would be Vietnamese) or year-round fresh fruit. When Japanese started getting microwaves, they had never had convection ovens. Do we really want to throw out the lore through the ages of oven cooking?
Do I sound too picky? Well, I'm not a foodie, I don't know much about food, I don't really cook. Yet I know that stuff, any food critic would, and I want to read someone that knows more than me, an authority.
In conclusion, the biggest problem is the lack of focus. The earlier book looked at the ethical dimensions of our food choices, This one is supposedly built around how to make healthy choices, but he got sidetracked by an arguably more interesting idea: how a lot of nutrition advice of recent decades is faulty, misguided. or discredited. Then he got sidetracked by food habits and evolution and so-called civilization. imho
What I took from it is that we really don't know all there is to know about food and we shouldn't rely on what food companies are selling as a guide to what we should be eating.
Of course, there really isn't anything unknown in this book. Everyone with half a brain knows that white flour and high doses of sugar (as found in pop and cakes and pretty much anything that comes in a box) is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. But, then again, everyone also knows that smoking is bad for our health but smokers still don't stop smoking, so why should we expect that knowing we shouldn't drink that big bottle of cola or eat a family size bag of potato chips in a single sitting by ourselves would make us not do it?
The book can be summed up with it's subtitle: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. But, of course, that ain't gonna happen, is it...
In the second part of the book Pollan lays out rules for healthy eating, most of which are summed by the books catchy slogan: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. I liked the rules because of their simplicity and I do think that most of us make healthy eating more complex than it needs to be. But I would have liked more explanation of some of the rules, especially since most of them had nothing to do with counteracting the demon of nutritionism described in the first half of the book. For example, I would have liked more explanation about why we should avoid food ingredients we cannot pronounce. Yes, I think it's a good rule. But because he didn't spend any time talking about preservatives or food additives in the first part of the book we almost have to take him at his word that these ingredients are bad for us. Many of his rules suffered from similar problems.
Simple enough. This book has led me to really think about food and health in a way I have always wanted to. I like the farmer's market, but I don't go to it every week (or even every month). This book presents such a straightforward and articulate case that I'm probably going to sign up for a CSA box soon. In Defense of Food is a call to action - Ignore the "experts" and remember your great-grandmother! Take back your health! Take back your right to fresh food! Enjoy it!
I like what this book has to say about food - food is healthy, but not everything labeled "food" is food. And you shouldn't eat too much. Sounds good. All that Pollan discusses and recommends is very interesting, and I will definitely think about this book, follow some of its advice, and recommend it to others.
"Humans have been found to thrive and stay healthy on an incredible variety of diets, from diets that are purely vegetarian to those that are based almost entirely on animal protein to everything in between. However, the one diet that we know humans are cannot live healthily on is the western diet."
Pollan talks about how the fields of science do not have good answers to *why* the Western Diet is unhealthy. We are constantly trying to guess by deconstructing food into a macronutrients, vitamins and all sorts of other components, but are constantly failing. Food, it seems, is more than the sum of its parts. In no small part, this is because nutritionists just don't know or recognize all the parts and their importance and probably will not for a long time. As a result, Pollan's recommendation is simple:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Of course, by "food", he means real food and not "food products". All the cereals, pastas, breads, sweets, sodas, etc that we drink are just products engineered in a lab. Something in them or something missing from them - and we don't quite know what - is unhealthy for us. What it is, however, just isn't that important as long as we instead choose to eat real food. He also points out that two other trends that have proven true through time is that eating mostly plants (fruits & veggies) and not too much food tends to be healthiest.
The first part of the book is entirely convincing. An analysis of what is wrong with nutritionalism and some very clear advice on how to remedy that.
However, in the final part of the book, is becomes clear that the author and his advice are not of this world. It sounds almost like Star Trek: "Eating is communication, with people and with species." It must be understood that the plea here is to include as many species as possible, not at but on the dinner table, i.e. to eat them.
Especially in the final part of the book, it becomes clear that's Pollan's cause is a lost battle. To achieve better health on a national scale would involve a revolutionary change of habits and attitudes, a rejection of the American way of life, and a way of curbing capitalism. It is clearly as the sub title suggest: a manifesto. A political statement, on a scale comparable with the Communist Manifesto. Anyone with a grain of sense will understand that this is a highly unlikely scenario.
So does the author.
Obviously, any author has a particular audience in mind when writing a book. Is does not happen often that the author explicitly starts addressing that audience. There are not many authors who will tell their readers: “You would not have bought this book and read this far into it if your food culture was intact an healty.” (p. 134). Pollan continues addressing the reader as “you”, giving advice and councelling on food choices, but in the process tells us more about that audience he has apparently in mind. And in doing so, one thing becomes very clear: Salvation is not for everyone.
So who are the chosen? Well, first of all “typically, they are more health conscious, better educated and more affluent.” The author’s advice is to be that kind of person. (p. 172). Elsewhere, Pollan states that spending more money on higher quality food is not for everyone, but attainable for some Americans: his lucky few. To be better educated is also advisable when the author suggests to go foraging for edible greens and wild mushrooms in the park (p. 197). This advice is clearly not for everyone: the picture of Pollan’s reader is becoming clear.
Clearly, Pollan is not only interested in our health. However true the life-style argument may be, it always carries dark undertones of condemnation: “Avoid eating alone!” I this a plea for the traditional family?
Altogether, a very readable book, with a lot to think about.
Pollan's advice after the review of the literature and hundreds of interviews are this:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
You can break it down further into some basic rules of thumb:
1. Don't eat any single food with more than five ingredients.
2. Eat at a table--(ie: not at your desk or in the car).
3. Eat meals-- combinations of food have arisen for cultural and evolutionary reasons. There are social aspects of eating meals at table that improve our health, as well as the combinations in those meals themslves.
4. Spend more on healthier food (so you likely spend less on health care in the future) and then eat less of it (as the law of demand would imply). This includes having your own small garden plot.
5. Eat a variety.
6. See meat as a side item-- something to be enjoyed with a meal that is mainly vegetables.
Westerners have moved from eating leaves (fresh greens) to seeds (corn, soy), and this poses problems. We've industrialized our food chain and homogenized our products. Now we consume a ton of a few specific items-- like corn, soy, and meat-- which itself has become homogenized.
This book made me think about my own habits of straying toward processed foods so that I hit my calorie and macronutrient targets since I'm working out and lifting weights every day. The USDA's estimations of both micro and macronutrient content of things like produce is highly suspect, since there is a lot of variability based on the quality of soil each fruit and vegetable was grown on. Likewise for cattle, what's the quality of the grass consumed by the "grass-fed cattle" you're eating, and isn't "grass-finished" cattle more important since what they were eating in the feed lot before being slaughtered may not have been grass?
One flaw I might find in the book is the lack of combination with exercise science. Yes, the Europeans eat less and in smaller portions so this might explain their better health than Americans. But they are also more urbanized and walk and stand more, and do more flights of stairs. Building muscle, even in small amounts, effects how your body processes the calories it consumes. That area goes completely unaddressed in the book.
Not nearly as vitriolic or dogmatic as other books on the subject. Pollan is intellectually humble and understands that recommendations put forth today may not be what is put for tomorrow.I recommend it. 4 stars out of 5.
Pollan does a great job highlighting the issues with the Western diet and how it has possibly created the health concerns that are so rampant in America. The rules he offers are simple and pretty self explanatory. In a time when our society is so obsessed with food and nutrition it is refreshing to finally have someone defend food.
The subtitle of the book is "An Eater's Manifesto" and that manifesto is simple -- in Pollan's words "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." In other words, avoid processed foods, eat less meat (and make the meat you eat high quality) and go for quality rather than quantity.
Pollan points out what is wrong with the current state of nutrition research and how this has led us into a food culture that focuses on individual nutrients rather than whole foods.
His arguments are clear and logical and I have really started to think about what I eat after reading this book. It is an excellent companion to The Omnivore's Dilemma or a great stand-along read for those more interested in their own health than the overall health of the environment.
I lost so much weight, that I really started to pay attention to the way that I was eating, the specific foods. I joined Weight Watchers, and I counted points. I lost five more pounds, but I was anxious about food a lot. I was also hungry. I spent a lot of time thinking about food, and I didn't enjoy what I was eating. I bought little chocolate cakes, put out by Weight Watchers at only one point that tasted a lot like chocolate sawdust, and told myself it was a treat. I then started gaining weight.
Now that I have read this book, I can see the clear differences between the two styles of eating. When I focused on eating real food and enjoying eating, I lost weight, without putting much effort into it. When I focused on losing weight, I thought about food all the time, I didn't enjoy my food, and I gained weight. This book was helpful in reminding me of my own experiences with food and weight, and showing why things happened that way. It was short book, but very interesting, and full of information. Highly recommended.
In lieu of choosing food by nutrients, it’s better to choose food by what is fresh, tasty, and appealing. The author advises people to take time to savor good food and avoid mindless snacking. He feels that if people do not know exactly what their food contains, based on some unidentifiable scientific words on a box, it’s best to avoid that food product completely. Your good health will be your ultimate reward.
It's that simple. The book is nice and concise... very readable. One of the many, many take-aways I had from the book was that scientists will measure what they can SEE in our diets... cholestoral, vitamin A, omega-3s... and make decisions on what is good and bad for us, but they don't see the whole picture. they can't measure what they don't see and what they don't see may work with what they can to make it better or worse. Forget about it!!!
Just EAT FOOD... and read this book.