Over the summer I picked up (and then couldn’t put down….) In Defense Of Food, An Eaters Manifesto by Michael Pollan. If you are not familiar with Pollan, he is an American author and journalist who has penned five books, four of which deal with food, the food industry, and the American way of eating. He is credited for the famous (or now infamous) quote that is frequently repeated in health circles “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants”. How great is that?
This book is a must-read for anyone who is engaged in the way we eat and how health trends, big agriculture, government and media have impacted how we eat and what we believe to be healthy. Consistently throughout this book I was shocked by what I was reading! With pen in hand I vehemently circled, underlined, and starred passages from the book. As I go back to the writing and flip through my marks, here are a few highlights to get you thinking and inspire you to pick up this thought-provoking read!!
Pollan begins the book with a look into the concept of Nutritionism and how it came to be pervasive in our culture. This belief is one that practically dictates the Standard American Diet (SAD). Nutritionism is based around the beliefs that each food not wholly nutritious but is simply the sum total of the tiny micronutrient blocks of which it is comprised (antioxidants! vitamins! protein! good fat! bad fat!) . We have come to believe consuming the individual components of “healthy food” is a good replacement for just eating the whole food itself. Pollan points out that nutritionism is the hallmark of the FDA and its recommendations. For example, instead of recommending decreasing consumption of meat products (which he alludes, would damage the FDA’s support from the meat and farming industry) it is recommended that Americans decreased their intake of saturated fats, which we know come from animal products. Now, the whole foods we should be consuming do not have the fancy flashy labels of our favorite fortified cereal which has omega-3′s, anti-oxidants, B-vitamins, and protein added in for your ‘nutritional needs’ (while also packing a sugary, GMO & gluten-laden punch!). When consumed with this philosophy those eating the SAD begin to believe that their fortified cereal is a healthier choice than a simple breakfast of plain old steel-cut oats and fruit or whole grain toast and nut butter. Think about it. Scary stuff.
Pollan also demystifies the “Fat Hypothesis” which SO many people still subscribe to, shockingly. This philosophy ran wild in the 90′s (think Fat Free Cheese and Snack Wells cookies, ‘light’ salad dressing). It’s ironic to find that the author writes about how the start of the low-fat trend coincides with the striking rise of obesity in America. Additionally, he adds very valid points regarding the weak evidence linking dietary fat and cholesterol intake and coronary artery disease. (In fact, intake of triglycerides & trans fats are far worse.) This is a far more detailed conversation left for another post but Pollan brings many valid points to light.
Quick Hits From In Defense of Food:
Corn, Soy, Wheat, and Rice account for two-thirds of the calories Americans eat. These four crops are also highly genetically modified and stripped down to a form that would be unrecognizable by our ancestors, let alone our bodies.
The average american consuming the SAD takes in around two hundred pounds of meat each year. WOAH.
People who are flexetarians (like the YOU-etarian!?) who eat mostly vegetarian with occasional meat intake, reap the same health benefits as vegetarians when their meat consumption is minimal (less than 1 serving per day). Pretty cool!
If you have read In Defense of Food, I would love to hear your comments. If not, I highly recommend this great book. Keep your mind open to what Pollan has to offer: his recommendations on how to ‘escape the western diet’ are great reminders for all of us!