Book Report: In Defense of Food

On the plane to San Francisco, I finished up In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen.



This is the first Michael Pollen book I have read, but not the first book discussing basically the food crisis we have in America right now.

Nutrition has been a passion of mine for many years and started with my own personal endeavors for weight loss. Through the past few years, I have done a substantial amount of research on not only the nutrients that our body needs but also how to acquire those nutrients.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I fell victim to nutritionism: what I feel is the key idea that Michael Pollen points a finger at, and rightfully so. The idea behind nutritionism, that I’ve gathered anyway, is that we, because of the food industry and the science behind the industry, look too closely at individual aspects of nutrition and diet and are not getting an adequate holistic view. And it is ruining our relationship with food.

Pollen uses examples ranging from the low fat/no fat craze of the 80’s to the current omega-3 craze that infects our food products in today’s supermarkets. And I agree wholeheartedly. But my agreement wouldn’t have been the case years ago. I had to go through the process of giving into the diet crazes and realizing that they didn’t actually work before I could trust in real food.

Pollen backs his ideas with science. And the Biology major in me loves that but the human in me found my eyes glossing over a lot of the supporting data. Statistic after statistic is not what pulls at my (or the rest of America’s for that matter) heartstrings. And while I understand what Pollen is trying to accomplish with this book, I feel like it is only going to be read by those that are already on the right track with their eating and food sources, much like myself. I actually preferred Animal, Vegetable, Miracle because it seemed much more personal and relatable and Kingsolver did dribble in factoids but it wasn’t as much of an eyesore between the recipes and tales of canning adventures.

So how can we reach greater masses? Programs like The First Lady’s efforts with the Anti-Obesity Bill, inviting children to the White House garden, etc. definitely help. But it is still a really select group of people benefiting from these endeavors. I don’t have the answers. And if I did, I’d be making the big bucks. But I agree with Pollen that it really needs to start with our children.

So what can we do right now?

Eat Local. Shop the Farmer’s Market, participate in CSA’s. Done, and done.

Choose Organic. Organic foods typically have more nutrients than their non-organic counterparts. But keep in mind – not all small farmer’s can get organic certification for whatever reason so I think eating local comes first.

Eat More Leaves. Green, leafy veggies rock. They are packed with nutrients and are less calorie dense than their seed counterparts.

If you have an interest in learning more about the ways you can better your diet and more importantly, how America got so diet driven and haven’t had the chance to look into and are looking for statistics and scientific findings to convince you, read this book. If you need something touchy feely, look elsewhere.


4 Responses

  1. Did you read Omnivore’s Dilemma? I read that one and I enjoyed it. I feel like this one would be more “preaching to the choir” to me, and I am so not a science person. I really want to read AVM.

  2. This really was science-y! I found parts of it quite engaging, especially when he talked about nutritionism. The information is interesting, it’s the statistics that made my eyes glossy. I think I’ll give Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a shot. I’m definitely up for learning more about this topic.
    I’m also wondering if Pollan’s other books have as many stats? I’ve checked out his blog on the NY times site and it’s pretty interesting. I remember reading somewhere that he eats a vegetarian diet until 6pm every day. For the most part, I do the same thing, but I hate labels.

  3. This sounds like a very interesting book. I read the omnivore’s dilemma and really liked it. I tried to borrow this book from the library as well, but it turns out they have lost the book! Seriously, what are the chances?

  4. I’d like to read this. Sadly due to my location this type of reading stresses me out. Almost nothing available here can be considered local. We have organic veggies available but not meat.

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