In Defense of Food

A review of Michael Pollan’s book by the same title.

Mr. Pollan’s book is “an eater’s manifesto.” The thesis of the book is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
But of course, we think, “I eat food! What else would I eat?”
The truth is, that in the modern arena of food, the focus has shifted from food to nutrients.
What’s wrong with this, you ask? At first it seems as if there’s nothing wrong. After all, we eat food to get the nutrients, right? Well, yes, that is one reason why we eat. But, science is a realm that we are continually discovering things in.  God designed food to have nutrients and properties that benefit our health and that we will never know about.
An example of eating ‘nutrients’ versus ‘food’ – Sugar-rich cereals boast “high fiber!” when really, you’d be better off buying the bran flakes that don’t say they’re high in fiber but have just as much and aren’t sugary. Margarine may say it’s  “low-fat,” but we need some fat, and margarine is worse for you than butter (though olive oil is even better!). We feed cows corn because it makes them have ‘better’ meat, but they get different nutrients in grass – nutrients that kill e-coli!
We try to be smart, but it’s only turned us into a sicker, fatter nation.

Mr. Pollan spends the first section of his book examining “nutritionism” – this idea that nutrients are more important than food. He traces the people, ideologies, studies, and health of the United States as nutritionism spread and we began eating products of food science rather than of nature. Pollan calls the mindset of Americans the “American paradox” – the more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we become.
Food has become a sum of its nutrient parts, not a system. Food is greater than the sum of its parts, not equal to its parts. We try to make things that are similar to food by putting the parts together, but we’re much better off just eating the food.

The second section of the book is called “The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization.” Pollan starts it off with a chapter about a study done on Aborigines. They had become unhealthy after switching to the Western diet, and the study took them back to their more natural eating habits. When the time was up, they were much healthier. The rest of the section is devoted to the history of the Western diet – how we used to eat, what has changed, and why the old way was better.

In the final section, Mr. Pollan examines in detail his manifesto. He defines ‘food,’ explains why ‘mostly plants,’ is important, and says what ‘not too much’ means. He uses these three phrases to give a way of escape from the Western diet and nutritionism, returning to healthy eating. Pollan gives helpful tips for eating and buying food in a way that will most benefit one’s health.

Pollan does write from a non-Christian worldview, which mostly manifests itself in references to evolution. Apart from that, however, I can think of no critiques of In Defense of Food. We already eat a rather un-western diet (at least in the way Pollan uses the term), but the book still has influenced the way I think about food and eating.
I highly recommend that you read this book. 🙂

Eating food,
– Kyleigh


3 thoughts on “In Defense of Food

  1. Kate says:

    We have a book by Weston A. Price that sounds similar. He went and studied several different cultures – and the impacts of a Western diet – and took photos of the differences made after just one generation of diet change. I’ll agree it’s pretty interesting.


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