In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifestoby Michael Pollan is a quick read. It was #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list when I reserved it at the library. Popular book, said the librarians.
The book starts like this:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I’m not going to critique the book; I don’t have a degree in nutrition. Instead, I’ll do the snippet-style review, with quotes to give a flavor of the book:
From the first chapter, from Foods to Nutrients:
“…in the 1980s…traditional supermarket foods were steadily being replaced by “nutrients,” which are not the same thing. Where once the familiar names of recognizable comestibles–things like eggs or breakfast cereals or snack foods–claimed pride of place on brightly colored packages…new, scientific-sounding terms like “cholesterol” and “fiber” and “saturated fat” began rising to prominence…the implicit message was foods, by comparison, were coarse, old-fashioned and decidely unscientific things…”
He then gives a history of the science of nutrition and talks about a term called “Nutritionism”. Nutritionism is an ideology, not a science. The term was defined by Gyorgy Scrinis in 2002:
“…namely, that we should understand and engage with food and our bodies in terms of their nutritional and chemical constituents and requirements – the assumption being that is all we need to understand.”
In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. Put another way: Foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts.
Food is defined in the book as what’s around the edges of the supermarket (fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, meat) as opposed to what comes in a box in the middle.
He has a great little history of the making of refined grains.
Because for many years only the wealthy could afford refined grains, they acquired a certain glamour. Refining grains extends their shelf life (precisely because they are less nutritious to the pests that compete with us for their calories) and make them easier to digest by removing the fiber that ordinarily slows the release of their sugars. Also, the finer that flour is ground, the more surface area is exposed to digestive enzymes, so the quicker the starches turn to glucose.
Toward the back of the book he has more of his pithy sayings, like this one:
GET OUT OF THE SUPERMARKET WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
‘You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market’, he says. Too bad our farmer’s market is only open in the summer. I hope to write about the Highland Park Farmer’s Market when it comes back to greet us.
EAT WELL-GROWN FOOD FROM HEALTHY SOILS
It would have been much simpler to say “eat organic” because it is true that food certified organic is usually well grown in relatively healthy soils–soils that have been nourished by organic matter rather than synthetic fertilizers. Yet there are exceptional farmers and ranchers in American who for one reason or another are not certified organic and the food they grow should not be overlooked…ideally you want to look for food that is both organic and local.
Here’s a much more in-depth review of Pollan’s book.