In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollen

Given that November is all about food, “In Defense of Food” was this month’s pick for the Society for Avid Readers Across the Hudson (SARAH) Book Club and to be honest I was a little hesitant about it. I really didn’t want another book to tell me what I should be eating and why. But this book was a bit different.

For the most part, Pollan goes into the history of the food industry in the United States and how it has changed since the 50s. Why even though we claim to have “healthier” food, we have become more of an unhealthy society. He discusses how food has changed from what our mothers used to make, to food that is now loaded with preservatives and artificial ingredients that even though they claim to be “low fat” “low carb” “sugar free” etc., they are actually the opposite.

Early on in the transformation challenge that I joined at my gym this fall, my trainer actually gave us food advice. One tip was not to read the packaging on food because it was all false. Rather, she encouraged us to read the nutrition labels and the ingredients to see what we were actually eating. It is amazing all the unknown ingredients that we put into our bodies every day and don’t even realize it. So reading this book reinforced what my trainer was actually saying and went into further detail how the food industry, the media, and the government all played in a role in how we think about food.

In addition, Pollan talks about the healthy food that we have in our supermarkets, i.e, produce, which is not as healthier as it was 50 years ago. Between the pesticides and the stuff that we put into it so that we import it from other countries means our produce has lost some of its nutritional value. Furthermore, meat has also changed given that animals are now fed on a corn and soy diet. Our beef used to have marbling, aka fat, that is actually good for us. However, because scientists seemed to think at one time, that this type of “fat” was the sole reason for our rising heart disease, animals were fed a leaner diet to become …you guessed it…lean. He goes on to explain why this happened and even uses a term called Nutrionism, which is too complicated for me to explain so I will just read it for yourselves.

I am not going to lie, halfway through this book, I seriously wanted to throw my hands up in the air and say, “Well, we’re just screwed! What do we eat then?!” But I after continued to read, the second half became a little more positive. Pollan gives us some tips or “rules” for us to move away from this “unhealthy” eating. Besides reading food labels, he also suggests shopping at farmer’s markets or eating like our ancestors aka making our meals, enjoying our food, and eating slower. Though the front of the book says it all: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The one thing I didn’t like about this book was that it could have actually been a bit shorter. Pollan repeats a lot of points over and over again in multiple chapters, to the point that it is actually annoying. There were a few times, I was like “yeah I know, you already said that in the last chapter. What does that have to do with this one?” Yet, I was willing to overlook it because the book brought to light things I didn’t know. When I got done, I had to sit there and think. It definitely made me reevaluate how I approach food.

The book did generate a great discussion during book club as half the group didn’t like the book. Some took issue with the fact that Pollan seemed a bit preachy and pompous. The suggestion of shopping at farmers’ markets as the only way to buy healthy food rubbed a few the wrong way since market food is typically more expensive and many can’t afford that option. They felt that he should have considered the socio-economic factor a bit more. However, as some others pointed out, he has other books where he explains that. I think there were some, who after discussing Pollens points a bit more, ended up liking the book more than they thought.

It was definitely an interesting read and I was glad I gave it a chance. Now I should go make up my grocery shopping list for the week. Until next time…

Have you read In Defense of Food? What did you think? What other books about food would you recommend? Let’s discuss!

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