Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Book Review: In Defense of Food

Michael Pollan is a journalist who’s recently published several non-fiction books about food. His latest, In Defense of Food, covers the food industry and nutritionism.

As expected, he’s not happy with either. If you’ve ready any of his prior stuff you already knew that. He explains the evolution of nutritionism, which attempts to boil a health finding down to a nutrient, mineral, or oil that can be neatly packaged, promoted, and added to various food products. Its obvious partner is the food industry, which, in partnership with the FDA, AHA, or other ‘authorities’, places health claims on all that shiny plastic wrap.

He freely admits that he gives the whole book away on the cover. Three rules: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. The rest of the book just backs this up.

He hits a lot of great points. He attacks the ever-tempting connection between correlation (people who drink coffee get less diabetes) and causation (coffee prevents diabetes.) Do non-coffee drinkers start the day with a 40-ounce Pepsi? He attacks the lipid hypothesis which has driven our national nutrition policy for decades (with scant evidence to do so), and may have contributed to the obesity epidemic due to the burgeoning low-fat food industry. He exposes the Washington lobby money that drives the FDA, and makes you really mistrust all the "healthy eating" advice you'll ever hear. He discourages looking for the 'magic bullet' in traditional diets, and encourages rather eating the whole thing.

Then he lays out his advice for healthy eating. Most of it I love. Here's a small sampling:

  • Eat meals.
  • Pay more, eat less.
  • Do all your eating at a table.
  • Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.
My criticisms? He begins to fall into the nutritionism trap with Omega-3s, but pulls himself out just in time. And, if you've read his other stuff, this is a bit repetitive.

Overall, a good read. It will change the way you look at food, especially at the grocery store.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Smak, yikes. I don't have time to read a book about what we eat. I'm trying to make time for all the interesting books I want to read....and one about food is DEFINITELY not on that list.
take care.

The MSILF said...

I loved The Botany of Desire. Less the gardening one.

Sasilvia said...

Good for people to know.