In Defense of Food: Book Review

I recently read the book, In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. The basic overarching theme of the book is to, ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’

I didn’t like everything I read, as is the case with all health food books, but I did take some good notes on the parts I did like. From those notes, I gathered my favorite highlights and that’s what this post is about. If you were curious about the book, but didn’t want to read the whole thing, this post is for you. If you have no interest in health, stop here; this will just bore you.

When Pollan says ‘eat food’, he means that exactly. He says there are tons of food-like substances (processed foods with lots of different additives), but that we should eat real, whole foods. He gives some statistics and says Americans eat a lot more calories now than we did back in the 1980s. He says we eat by quantity not quality and that we manage to be “both overfed and undernourished, two characteristics seldom found in the same body in the long natural history of our species.”

Pollan says that the absence of nutrients in our bodies(that we get from plants) may counteract the normal feeling of satiety after enough calories are eaten.

 

In the third and last section of his book, Pollan gives some tips for choosing your foods. I copied the next few paragraphs word for word because I really liked it:

  • “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize.

    “Imagine your great grandmother at your side as you roll down the aisles. You’re standing together in front of the dairy case. She picks up a package of Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt tubes- and has no idea what this could possibly be. Is it a food or a toothpaste?…You could tell her it’s just yogurt in a squirtable form, yet if she read the ingredients label she would have every reason to doubt that that was in fact the case. Sure, there’s some yogurt in there, but there are also a dozen other things that aren’t remotely yogurt like, ingredients she would probably fail to recognize as foods of any kind, including high-fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, kosher gelatin, carrageenana, tricalcium phosphate, natural and artificial flavors, vitamins, and so forth(and there’s a whole other list of ingredients for the ‘berry bubblegum bash’ flavoring, containing everything but berries or bubblegum.) How did yogurt, which in your great grandmothers day consisted simply of milk inoculated with a bacterial culture, ever get to be so complicated?” pg 148-149

    “There are in fact hundreds of foodish products in the supermarket that your ancestors simply wouldn’t recognize as food: breakfast cereal bars transected by bright white veins representing, but in reality having nothing to do with, milk; ‘protein waters’ and ‘nondairy creamer’; cheeselike food stuffs equally innocent of any bovine contribution; cakelike cylinders (with creamlike fillings) called Twinkies that never grow stale. Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting is another personal policy you might consider adopting.

    “One of the problems with the products of food science is that…they lie to your body; their artificial colors and flavors and synthetic sweeteners and novel fats confound the senses we rely on to assess new foods and prepare our bodies to deal with them. Foods that lie leave us with little choice but to eat by the numbers, consulting labels rather than our senses.

    It’s true that foods have long been processed in order to preserve them, as when we pickle or ferment or smoke, but industrial processing aims to do much more than extend shelf life. Today foods are processed in ways specifically designed to sell us more food by pushing our evolutionary buttons- our inborn preferences for sweetness and fat and salt. These qualities are difficult to find in nature but cheap and easy for the food scientist to employ, with the result that processing induces us to consume much more of these ecological rarities than is good for us.”

  • “Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A)unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or that include D) high-fructose corn syrup.”

 

And here’s another short quote I liked which talks about the importance of eating meals together as a family.

“It is at the dinner table that we socialize and civilize our children, teaching them manners and the art of conversation. At the dinner table parents can determine portion sizes, model eating and drinking behavior, and enforce social norms about greed and gluttony and waste. Shared meals are about much more than fueling bodies; they are uniquely human institutions where our species developed language and this thing we call culture.” pg 189

 

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