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Book Review - In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Updated on January 13, 2010

If you are thinking about changing the way you eat this year a must read book for you is In Defense of Food - An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan.  This is an excellent book on the history of food and how different cultures eat.  In Defense of Food goes into great detail on how the Western diet has come about and how it has created lots of "Western diseases".  If you are thinking of going on a diet to lose weight or be healthier, I challenge you to read this book and not go on a diet but eat the way people were meant to eat from the beginning.

It is very interesting how corporations in America have taken such a huge role in determining exactly what we eat.  They have engineered new "foods" to make themselves money and in the process created "foods" that aren't really food and are certainly not good for you.  Another interesting tidbit is that the government has stepped in to say what we should and shouldn't eat and in the process created all sorts of health problems - because they really don't know what is best for us.

On page 10 Pollan states what I have been thinking for some time now.

"All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy.  These changes  have given us the Western diet that we take for granted: lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything - except vegetable, fruits and whole grains."

So I was sucked in from the beginning and found the book highly fascinating.  In America most people have become very confused about the way to eat.  Many people think you have to follow some sort of fad diet in order to maintain a healthy body weight.  What people have forgotten is that for centuries people of all races, ethnicities and ages have been much healthier than us by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and a moderate amount of meat. 

On the cover of the book it says "Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants."  After reading the book I would have to agree.  Foods that are man made (and contain many chemicals and artificial ingredients) are just not good for us. We need to get back to a simpler diet and eat more basic foods.  We can't get what our bodies need by eating fast food and processed foods. 

Doctors are seeing an increase in deficiency diseases (like rickets) that they hadn't seen in decades - and they are seeing them in obese people.  People that are clearly getting enough to eat are still not providing their bodies with the nutrients they need and it is causing problems.  On page 123 Pollan talks about a biochemist named Bruce Ames who thinks that micronutrient deficiencies may contribute to obesity because if the body is not getting what it needs it will keep wanting to eat in hopes of eventually getting it.  I found this a very interesting hypothesis that I can see being true.

Pollan ends In Defense of Food with a section that will help you figure out what to eat.  There are lots of tips including to regard nontraditional foods with skepticism, eat wild foods, eat mostly plants, get out of the supermarket, avoid food products that make health claims, avoid foods with ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or that include high fructose corn syrup, plus many more. 

Unfortunately some of these are easier said than done but if we just start eating basic foods again we will make great strides in improving our health. If you are interested in changing the way you eat, this book is for you.  In Defense of Food is a pretty easy read compared to Pollan's previous book The Omnivore's Dilemma (still excellent though) and is only 201 pages long.  If you have ever questioned whether all this processed food that Americans eat is good for you or not, this is the book for you.  I will definitely be recommending this book to everyone I know.


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    • garcilazoand profile image

      garcilazoand 7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      great book. nice review.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      I am sorry but I could never eat prepacked food. First of all it is too expensive and full of preservatives which you can taste. Thank you for your good advice.

    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      The problem akirchner is that most people who eat pre-packaged, processed foods (and I hope this doesn't sound too derogatory or mean) are simply lazy and don't want to put in the time and effort it takes to cook from scratch—or to learn to cook at all. My guess is that they would sooner watch something brain-draining on TV than ever pick up a book, especially one on a subject matter as this one.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 8 years ago from Washington

      I think the Western diet is what has America in the worst shape ever and it just goes on and on - the millions and billions that we spend on processed food is staggering and the irony is that then folks invest in exercise machines and gym fees; 66% of Americans are overweight by 30 pounds at least. There are some things that are just no brainers but maybe his book will help? Can only help - thanks for sharing as extremely timely information.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 8 years ago from Guwahati, India

      Process food is artificial and not natural. Anything artificial is injurious to health. Thanks for sharing.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 8 years ago

      I have to get a copy. I have long known that processed food is poison. Great informative hub.