In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Michael Pollan’s last book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; now In Defense of Food shows us how to change it, one meal at a time. Pollan proposes a new answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pollan’s bracing and eloqu

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    Virginia Messina

    Feb 16, 2008

    rated it
    did not like it

    Actually, there is enough good material in this book that it probably warrants another star or two. But I was so alarmed at the amount of misinformation here that one star is the best I can do.

    Michael Pollan is right about some of the big stuff. Nutrition research is badly flawed. It has sometimes led us down the wrong road (although it has also provided life-saving findings). The government is far too slow to change its recommendations and has strong ties (to put it mildly) to the food industr

    Michael Pollan is right about some of the big stuff. Nutrition research is badly flawed. It has sometimes led us down the wrong road (although it has also provided life-saving findings). The government is far too slow to change its recommendations and has strong ties (to put it mildly) to the food industry. The same can be said of my own nutrition profession.

    And obviously he is right that we should choose more whole foods and engage in practices that help us appreciate food—a useful perspective even if it isn’t a particularly cutting edge one.

    But for the most part, Pollan’s reasoning about nutrition and research was pretty unsophisticated and uninformed. He carefully describes all of the reasons why nutrition research is flawed, and then employs some of the worst examples of research (animal studies and completely uncontrolled observational approaches) to support his own arguments. He quotes “nutrition professionals” whose credentials and opinions are questionable at best. Almost without exception, his observations on nutrition are wrong—sometimes subtly so, sometimes overtly so, and sometimes in ways that are actually dangerous.

    Pollan defends his right to provide nutrition advice because he speaks on the authority of “tradition and common sense.” But, tradition and common sense will get you about 90% of the way to a healthy diet. The other 10% can have unfortunate and Pollan really has no sense of this.

    The last part of the book has recommendations about how to eat and shop. “Shop the perimeter of the grocery store” is exactly the advice that was popular among nutritionists when I started in this field 30 years ago. It’s just as wrong now as it was then. Why would you shop the perimeter of the store if you are supposed to be eating mostly plant foods? Far better to shop the produce corner and then head to the interior for grains, beans, condiments, and spices.

    Pollan doesn’t want us to eat anything with more than 5 ingredients on the label. So no prepared spaghetti sauce, salsa, fortified soymilk, or curry paste, all of which are perfectly healthful foods that play a central role in my diet.

    Of course, I understand the spirit behind this and all of his recommendations—-he wants us to slow down, cook more from scratch, use more whole-food ingredients, fewer manufactured foods. He’s a big fan of the Slow Food Association, for whom he is a frequent speaker and which he admits can sometimes sound like an elitist club for foodies (I’m thinking this has something to do with the fact that it is an elitist club for foodies as a quick peek at their website shows). Slowing down to cook and eat and enjoy food are good things, but there has to be room for a little bit of compromise and a sense of reality. There is nothing wrong with eating pasta sauce from a jar or frozen vegetables or—-my favorite convenience food and I’ll defend it to my death—-butternut squash soup from a box. It’s the way many busy responsible people cook and it’s a perfectly healthful and acceptable way to eat.

    I was disappointed that his entire discussion of the ethics of food choices fit into one single parenthetical sentence plus a footnote. This from the man who wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma and who debated ethics with Peter Singer (and lost the debate). I realize this isn’t what this book is about, but Pollan knows, far better than most people, the true cost– in terms of animal suffering and environmental destruction– of animal food production. When he talks about how to eat, he is obligated to speak to that issue at least a little bit.

    Pollan’s opening mantra—-eat food, not too much, mostly plants—-is good advice. There are other snippets of good advice in this book. For me, it was all greatly overwhelmed by faulty and uninformed reasoning , the unnecessarily restrictive requirements for food choices, and the great amount of misinformation.

    All in all, a disappointing book. At least it was short (a little shorter than my review, I think! )


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