Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Okay to Eat Food* Book Review: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

* Food being the operative word.

In Michael Pollan's newest book, a response of sorts to his previous work, The Omnivore's Dilemma, he suggests that it's okay to eat food. In fact, he has a manifesto: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

With that, he begins In Defense of Food, a roughly two hundred page essay on the problem with what we consider food today, and how we can change the way we eat.

Pollan has a real issue with the western diet, which largely consists of processed foods, made from grain like wheat and soybean. According to him, much of the diseases found in western civilization, like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, are linked to these foods. Never before in history has man been so "underfed yet so undernourished." The reason we eat so much, yet remain so unhealthy is because the food is so highly processed. Much of the nutrition from processed foods is removed, and then replaced by vitamins, and 'nutrients' like omega-3 fatty acids by scientists. But, because we know so little about the science behind nutrients and how our bodies absorb them (even after at least a couple of centuries of experimentation), we aren't actually getting any healthier from these "healthy foods."

He laments the loss of our former diet inspiration—our mothers—and vilifies nutritionism as a demon who has taken our cultural diet and turned it into a mass-produced industry.

Pollan's book joins a number of voices who are now calling for a return to whole foods. And with the rise of the slow movement, it feels like western society is slowly but surely moving towards a healthier diet.

Of course, while Pollan's manifesto is an important one, it doesn't offer any insight into how an entire population can achieve this, only the individual. Organic, whole food diets are expensive, and cannot feasibly support an entire country's population. Weight and health are proportional to income. The people most likely to suffer are the ones who need a change in lifestyle the most—the poor. But when a Big Mac a day costs less than a full week's worth of groceries, and you don't have to make it yourself, it's hard to change your lifestyle.

Still, for those of us who can afford to adopt Pollan's ideas, it's worth a try. Today we are encouraged to do everything as quickly as possible, but switching to a diet of whole foods automatically slows down your lifestyle. Even if you don't eat "mostly plants," you're already a step ahead of the curve.

Rating: Five stars

No comments: