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In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2008)

de Michael Pollan

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"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of food journalist Pollan's thesis. Humans used to know how to eat well, he argues, but the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." Indeed, plain old eating is being replaced by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Pollan's advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food." Looking at what science does and does not know about diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about what to eat, informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the nutrient-by-nutrient approach.--From publisher description.… (més)
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Lots of interesting information and good ideas but like many books of its kind, it gets tiresome after awhile. It was a reread for me and I remember liking it better the first time around. I mainly remembered that it focused on eating naturally and not about trends. It is actually a focus on nutrition trends and where we in the West have gone wrong. ( )
  boldforbs | Jan 15, 2021 |
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That is the slogan of the new food movement — whether you call it organic, slow food, natural. You know these people – they shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, can be found at the farmers markets and natural food co-ops, use all-natural cleaners and soaps, talk about raising chickens and rabbits in their backyard. Michael Pollan has written several books about food, nutrition, and the American diet; this particular book focuses on the controversy about nutrition, nutrients, food additives, and diet gimmicks. Pollan argues that much of what is consumed by Americans today is not really food, but rather “edible foodlike substances,” and suggests that despite our recent food science discoveries and studies on nutrition, Americans are less healthy than in previous generations. This book is a defense of food and eating, against misleading food nutrition science and the manufactured food industry. Pollan examines the historical background — the emergence of nutrition awareness and marketing, and something called “nutritionism” — that food is essentially the sum of its nutrient parts. He also looks at studies in which people from other cultures adopt the American diet — and inherit American diseases and disorders, projects regarding the cessation of the American diet and readoption of the traditional diet.

In addition to his critique, Pollan also offers practical, applicable suggestions: avoid food products that make health claims, stop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle, get out of the supermarket whenever possible, eat like an omnivore, remember that you are what what you eat eats (think about it), don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet, regard nontraditional foods with skepticism, don’t get your food from the same place your car gets fuel.

Though I had been skeptical of Pollan’s works after hearing much fanfare and hype about them, I found this book to be full of practical common sense. It was a bit ironic as I was reading to see that Pollan quotes studies and surveys regarding food claims and nutrition, right after berating the food industry for tweaking food claims and nutrition to sell food. Still, if books like this encourage Americans to look more closely at their food choices and move towards a healthier perspective on eating, I’m all for them. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

I went into this book in full agreement of his succinct, insightful (and now famous) thesis. And yet, I was startled at how much I was moved to take my eating more seriously. Typically I eat whatever is relatively convenient, and often alone. The advice he offers is important, and I believe, if applied would make us all happier, healthier, and wiser. I hope (and plan) to applying it.

Ps. If I don't rewrite this review within 30 days, someone get onto me. :) I hope to summarize the material into something more specific to remember. It's chock full of great, practical suggestions.
( )
  nrt43 | Dec 29, 2020 |
This book starts off a bit slow since at first Michael Pollan is simply re-hashing common knowledge for anyone that isn't new to healthy eating, fitness and the dieting game. I found myself absentmindedly nodding along, wondering if I should even bother finishing it, BUT I highly recommend you stick with it, because I can honestly say this book gave me an entire new perspective on food and my eating habits.

Before this reading this book, I had always been in the "nutritionism" camp, believing that food is simply fuel and it's wholesomeness could be boiled down to the sum of it's constituent nutrients. I think I found myself with this mindset, because that's largely what I had been exposed to, especially on mainstream fitness communities like reddit and bodybuilding forums, where "you can eat what you want, as long as it fits your macros" is a common phrase. Which technically is not bad advice, especially when your goals are short term.

As I progressed throughout the book, Michael Pollan began to change my mind starting with his exposal of the food industries tampering with US government diet recommendations and the swaying of scientists opinions. I wasn't exactly blind to the food industries corruption before but I hadn't realised it had started so early, so rampant and so transformative of an entire nations diet.

However, the erosion of trust of the food industry and supermarkets was only the beginning, as Pollan also highlights the difficulties with diet, due to the presence of innumerable confounding variables it starts to become clear how little we really know about nutrition. One need only look at how frequently respected institutions condemn previous nutrition advice THEY gave not too long ago. Pollan kindly points out however, that this isn't the scientists fault, as scientists can only make conclusions based on variables they can measure and as technology improves new variables are discovered that were previously unknown invalidating previous results.

In the latter parts of the book, there was also lots of practical tips for determining what to eat and how to eat besides the the really obvious ones (Avoid processed food with ingredients you don't know). Some of the ones I found most useful:
- The amount of time and money spent preparing the food is inversely proportional to the amount of food you eat. This is a really useful tip for me because I have a peanut butter binging problem! Buying large jars from Costco often results in me eating half a jar in one session which makes me feel awful emotionally and physically. However, if I buy a small expensive jar from Whole Foods I find I'm much less likely to binge and I'm able to have peanut butter in the house...
- When buying meat look for grass-FINISHED not just grass fed
- Tofu is not a heavily processed food, it is a food that is thousands of years old -> Just soybean milk curds
- To eat deliberately instead of compulsively. Furthermore to eat meals with other people when possible and not to snack. I actually found that this simple advice completely changed my eating habits and the way I thought about foods. What Michael Pollan explains is that eating is a social and cultural activity, instead of just a means to get fuel into the body, so one shouldn't rush the enjoying of this activity or multi-task (e.g. watching tv) during it. Having a self-enforced rule of only eating with other people/family makes it really easy to ensure I do not overeat snacks, and furthermore that if I do eat alone, that I fully immerse myself in the experience of eating without any other distractions.
- Multi-vitamins are most useful for when we are older, since that is when our bodies are no longer good enough to adequately absorb nutrients from food. Don't waste your money on them when you are younger...
- Although food from the local farmers market is expensive, if one can afford it they should buy it. Both for individual health but also for the ecological health of the community. I used to think that farmers markets is something that only the rich could afford and it wouldn't be a realistic option for food production for the masses, but now I see that for sustainable farming to be successful it initially needs buy-in for the those who can afford it. Thus it is my responsibility to buy local food when I can afford it as a means to give back to the community!

Lastly, even during the boring parts I thought that Michael Pollen had really good and engaging commentary that was easy to listen to.

TLDR: Book starts off a bit slow but absolutely keep reading because it might be transform your perception of food and your diet! Highly recommend. ( )
  arashout | Dec 13, 2020 |
Michael Pollan writes about food and nutrition the same way Farley Mowat wrote about animals i.e. with passion, insight, and definite opinions. Mowat certainly angered people during his writing life and I have no doubt that some people take offense at the things Pollan writes. As a food scientist, a class of researchers that Pollan criticizes, I guess I could have been among those detractors. However, I acknowledge that a lot of the criticism Pollan makes is deserved even though I don't completely disavow my previous employment.

The title almost seems like an oxymoron. Who would be opposed to food? Food is essential, isn't it? Pollan suggests that the modern diet (at least in North America) is "no longer, strictly speaking, food at all, and how we're consuming it -- in the car, in front of the TV, and, increasingly, alone -- is not really eating..." (quoted from page 7). For this turn of events he blames nutrition science and the food industry. Nutrition (or food) science comes in for a lot of finger-pointing because scientists look for molecules inside food that could cause effects on our bodies instead of looking at a big picture or more holistic view. I agree that some of the studies that have been published over the past number of years go to ridiculous lengths to draw conclusions based upon a certain nutrient. When those studies get picked up by main stream media all of a sudden everyone is buying acai berries or (even worse) bars with acai berries in them along with a ton of sugar and fat. It is especially worrisome when the studies are done by people who work for a certain industry or who receive funding from manufacturers. Pollan, and another writer I read regularly, Marion Nestle, regularly showcase studies that are biased by the funding they have received. In defence of my former career, most researchers I know would never consider biasing their results to benefit a funder and most would usually state that their findings do not establish that eating a particular food or nutrient would cure disease or ill health. I think that we need both the micro and the macro examination of food and, providing people take a common-sense approach to eating, it helps to understand how our body reacts to certain elements.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma Pollan concluded by offering the following advice: Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants. In this book in Part III he expands on those suggestions. That's probably the most valuable part of the book for anyone considering how to change their diet. Personally, since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma I have tried to eat better by eating more fruits, vegetables and pulses and eating less meat. The meat I do eat is quite often purchased from local farmers which may cost a little more than mass-produced meat but has a better fat ratio and is far better tasting. I grew up on a farm and I know the trials and tribulations of being a farmer so I also feel good about supporting local farms. ( )
  gypsysmom | Nov 25, 2020 |
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…the "what to eat" question is somewhat more complicated for us than it is for, say, cows. Yet for most of human history, humans have navigated the question without expert advice. To guide us we had, instead, Culture, which, at least when it comes to food, is really just a fancy word for your mother.
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"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of food journalist Pollan's thesis. Humans used to know how to eat well, he argues, but the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." Indeed, plain old eating is being replaced by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Pollan's advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food." Looking at what science does and does not know about diet and health, he proposes a new way to think about what to eat, informed by ecology and tradition rather than by the nutrient-by-nutrient approach.--From publisher description.

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