In Defense of Food: a book recommendation
5 out of 5 stars.
In honor of the coming Thanksgiving (and impeding over-indulgence), I thought I’d recommend a slightly different sort of book than my usual YA/MG recs.
Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food is…well, shocking. And disturbing.
But good–very good. It changed my life and led to a complete overhaul of how I cooked, how I shopped, and ultimately, how I ate.
Michael Pollan’s last book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; now In Defense of Foodshows 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 eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.
Pollan presents some major “food for thought” (ha, yes, the pun is intended). He shows you how distorted the Western approach to eating is–how we view our food as “nutrients” instead of food, how we rely on science/government/industry to dictate what and how we eat, and how deeply flawed the entire Western relationship to eating has become in the last 50 years.
We “diet” instead of “eat”. We shop according to invisible things called “nutrients” instead of simply buying food. We trust magazines and labels instead of the eating habits defined by millennia of successful cultures around the world.
Trust me: when I eat straight German fare, which is basically meat, potatoes, and lots of cream and cheese, I feel GREAT. When I eat straight French fare of bread, cheese, wine, and meat, I feel GREAT. When I spent a summer in Belize and ate traditional Mayan fare–tortillas, corn, and meat–I felt FANTÁSTICA.
Basically, when I eat traditional anything, my body loves me.
But when I eat packaged, processed, fast-food (but undeniably delicious) crap? I need afternoon naps, lack the mental acuity my career demands, and feel all-around GROSS.
So if you want to learn what you’re really eating…or if you’ve been considering leaving processed foods behind (and just need an extra nudge)…or if you’re simply interested in learning about American diets, then be sure to read In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.
You tell me: have you read this book? Or anything else by Michael Pollan?
November 20, 2011 @ 11:24 am
I would never have known this book existed if it wasn’t for your recommendation. I must try it, this book popped up at the exact time I’ve been thinking about all the junk I’ve been eating… and how i’ve been told that by not eating process food it would be a life-saver. Thanks for another book to read!!!
there’s no Thanksgiving here in Aus, but Happy Thanksgiving to you!!
November 21, 2011 @ 12:00 am
You’re so welcome!! Let me know what you think! It literally changed my life when I cold-turkey stopped eating processed foods. My energy levels skyrocketed!
November 20, 2011 @ 1:24 pm
I’ve read Food Rules, the shorter version of this book — Pollan wrote it because doctors kept saying to him that they’d love to have something to give to their patients, but it needed to be shorter so they’d actually read it. I picked it up after I read about it in the New York Times, and the longer version is now sitting in my TBR pile. I completely agree–whenever I eat traditionally, I feel so much better, even though a lot of those ingredients are seen as unhealthy, or high fat (hello, French cheese). When I eat processed food, I feel noticeably blah. I only wish that stopped me all the time!
November 21, 2011 @ 12:01 am
I need to get FOOD RULES–if only so I hand it off to ppl and say, “Here. Do this.”
And yeah, I have to say it’s easier to eat non-processed foods in Germany, but whenever I go to the States to visit my parents…oy vey. The sugar cravings when I come home last WEEKS. It’s unbelievable how addicted our bodies get!!
November 20, 2011 @ 2:41 pm
I love Pollan. He’s really incredible. I’ve read a few of his shorter works and have The Botany of Desire on my tbr right now. I’m teaching a class on Food and Sustainability this semester and have learned a lot. You are so right– eating “real” food is key. My students and I have talked a lot about how Americans love “cheap” food, but that we’re not considering the true costs (in health, environmental degradation, and even respect for life).
November 21, 2011 @ 12:03 am
Oh, wow, Kat–that sounds like a fascinating class. You should totally talk about it on your blog (I am very not-subtly hinting that I wanna take your class and therefore want to mooch off your lectures by tricking you into posting info on your blog. ;)). Seriously, though, just knowing where you food (or should I say “food”?) comes will make you revamp your diet.
November 20, 2011 @ 4:13 pm
Oh yes. I love this book. Food Rules is great too if you want a shortened, quick version of In Defense of Food. I’ve lent that out to so many people that I have no idea where it is anymore.
The American diet is APPALLING. And it angers me too. I can’t even shop at regular grocery stores anymore. (Sorry, Publix, but you sell very little actual food). Several years back, I made a conscious decision to stop eating all (ok, most) processed food and only eat fresh, organic fruits and veggies and very little meat. I feel flipping awesome. It’s such a simple, common sense approach to food, but sadly we’ve gotten so far away from it that it’s confusing to most people who grew up on the processed diet. (I know it was very confusing to me at first). And the more of that crap we eat, the worse off we are, which then feeds the multibillion dollar weight loss industry, an industry that is inextricably linked to the crap food industry. They’re big business, so the food industry lobbyists make sure that we keep on eating the highly processed, filler food. Years and years and years of programming, and now we’ve gotten to the point where we’re scared to eat real food. And that’s sad.
Whew. Sorry for the post hijack, but I could go on for hours. Clearly this is something I feel strongly about. 😉
November 21, 2011 @ 12:05 am
You are NOT post hijacking–I love talking about this stuff. I too feel flipping awesome, and whenever people make the mistake of asking me about it, it’s like opening the floodgates!
You’re so right too–about the industry and $$-making-scheming that goes into all processed food. It’s also soooo addictive. After I foolishly gorged on that candy corn and had a wretched tummy ache for the rest of the day, I was then stuck with CRAVINGS for a week! I felt hungry for sugar–but not natural sugar, mind you. It literally took a week of fighting to ignore those false-hunger-pangs before they finally subsided.
November 20, 2011 @ 9:29 pm
I’ve never read about food, so I’ll have to give this a shot.
I set up a new writing blog (ariannasterling.blogspot.com) and have you as the first site on my links page. Just thought I’d let you know 🙂
November 21, 2011 @ 12:08 am
Let me know what you think of it!
And YAY! I love the new site! Thanks for sharing the link, lady! I’ll add you to my RSS feed ASAP.
November 20, 2011 @ 9:34 pm
Love this recommendation. LOVE. When my husband and I traveled through Italy for a month a few years ago (during the summer), we lived on fresh salad greens, Parmigiano reggiano, espresso, olive oil, and wine. And felt brilliant. We also ate like the locals in Germany, and Austria, and France. Real food rules.
November 21, 2011 @ 12:09 am
Oh, I’m drooling at that list of foods, April. There’s really NOTHING so satisfying as culturally defined, AUTHENTIC meals (ahem, Olive Garden, you do not count).
You’re right: Real food rules.
November 20, 2011 @ 9:58 pm
I’ve had it for a long time but I’ve never read it. I really need to rectify that soon. I also have The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
November 21, 2011 @ 12:11 am
I need to read THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA. I started it on a Kindle sample but never got around to buying it. (Hint, hint, Mr. Frenchman, if you’re reading this–Christmas idea!)
Let me know what you think, Julie!
November 21, 2011 @ 4:30 am
LOVE this book. I read it back in…early 2010 I think along with a few other books like this that related to kids. Amazing stuff. Really changed the way I thought about food and the products we use in and on our bodies.
November 22, 2011 @ 9:13 am
I think having kids must really make you want to get healthy–especially once you realize what CRAP you’re feeding them if you don’t!! I’m horrified when I think back on what my mom fed me growing up (bless her heart, she didn’t know better).
November 21, 2011 @ 4:53 am
i love this book! eat food – not too much – mostly plants!
i heard that his other books are a little pretentious, but this one was so accessible, and well drawn out. the part about low fat diets was really interesting, and i read a lot about nutrition as a vegetarian, but never heard of micronutrients and how important they are.
if you like pop sci that is researched to death, but super enjoyable and not full of technical jargon, i highly recommend “pink brain, blue brain.”
November 22, 2011 @ 9:13 am
Ooh, thanks for the rec!! I’ll definitely look into that. And yeah, I haven’t read other Pollan, but I did find this book really accessible and easy to enjoy.
November 21, 2011 @ 12:06 pm
I have heard of this author and this book but not read it. Sounds interesting though, I think the British thinking towards food is very similar to the American at the minute. Plus I am slowly but surely starting to drop the processed food 🙂
November 22, 2011 @ 9:15 am
Yeah–all Western diet is headed toward the processed approach. I mean, Germany is no better…there’s just still the OPTION of traditional foods. We don’t really have that in the US…
November 21, 2011 @ 2:24 pm
This book is great! I finished my PhD in nutritional epidemiology earlier this year, and it’s mind boggling how much of disease can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle, including eating right. I try to eat ”fresh” as much as possible (ummm Halloween candy coma not included, haha…I still feel guilty about that). But ya, usually when I feel like something sweet, I’ll whip up some brownies from scratch and substitute certain ingredients to up the fibre and cut the sugar. Homemade pasta sauce is sooooo easy and cheap to make, too! I almost fainted when I realized how much sugar is in the pre-packaged bottles of spaghetti sauce. I could rave on about this for hours, so I’ll stop here 🙂 Thanks for spreading the word on this topic though! It’s so important.
November 22, 2011 @ 9:18 am
First of all: DUDE, CONGRATS ON YOUR PHD!!!!!!! DR. HUGHES!!! That is flipping fantastic.
Second of all: yes, yes, yes. Homemade food is shockingly easy, yet we’re raised thinking we need things out of a box. Like mac n’ cheese–making it from scratch takes all of ten minutes, and that’s no different than the neon orange crap in a Kraft box. Not to mention, it’s about ten billion times tastier. 😉
Third of all: I’m all about the substitutes! I love figuring out what I can replace (oh, I’ll use applesauce instead of oil for this cake…or oh, I’ll use a banana instead of an egg). Sometimes this totally fails, but other times, you wind up with new, delicious things!! 😀