Monday, April 7, 2008

Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
This seemingly simple advice appears on the cover of Michael Pollan’s new book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. And according to Pollan, it is the answer to the increasingly complicated question of what humans should eat.
Pollan’s last book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores the principal food chains in the United States and our “national eating disorder,” which has instigated a national discussion about the way Americans eat.
Now, In Defense of Food attempts to show us how to change the way America eats. Pollan argues that instead of the products of nature, we’re more likely to reach for highly processed, unrecognizable forms of food that come wrapped in packages full of heath claims. Pollan aims to help natural, whole foods fight back, one meal at a time.
In the first section of the book, Pollan discusses nutritionism, a philosophy that assumes food is simply the sum of its nutrients; the main reason for eating is to maintain health; and that expert help is needed to construct the best diet. Pollan knocks this down, showing that nutritional scientists are eager to find a health benefits in whatever they are paid to study. One day, fats might be the nutrient to avoid, the next, carbohydrates are the culprit.
Pollan is even more forceful in his fight against the Western diet, claiming that all heath issues stem from the way America eats. He encourages Americans to “eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese,” since they are generally healthier than those who eat a Western diet.
Pollan offers some ground rules for what to eat in the last section of the book. His rules include, “eat mostly plants, especially leaves,” “do all your eating at a table,” and “try not to eat alone.” These seem simple enough.
But other rules are nearly impossible for most people, let alone college students, to follow. One rule encourages readers to “avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or d) that include high-fructose corn syrup.” That rules out just about everything in my dorm room. Most of Pollan’s other rules about what and how to eat require access to a kitchen and a farmer’s market, making them difficult for a Penn student to follow. While Penn Dining offers some local, organic options, it’s almost impossible to ensure that everything one eats would be approved by Pollan.
The best way to heed Pollan’s advice is to recognize that there is a problem with the way America eats, and to take small steps towards a change. If you are in college, don’t eat at your desk; go to the dining hall with a friend and utilize the salad bar. And for everyone, farmer’s markets are popping up everywhere; be adventurous and try it out, maybe using produce you’ve never tried before. By making these small adjustments to the way we eat and think about eating, we can positively impact our health and the way we think about food.
Written by Kristen M., staff writer for Penn Appetit


  1. this book would be great for someone who isn't happy with their eating habits, and wants to learn more about how to eat food, not food-like substances which many of us are consuming today.



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