In Defense of Food, Part 1

michael-pollan1 Mention Michael Pollan in a crowded room (or in an elevator, at the dinner table, at work, etc) and you get one of two reactions:

Reaction One: the person rolls their eyes, remembering Pollan as some sort of a "Food Nazi" from a TV interview he gave over the past year, probably one where he said you should only eat things your Great-Grandma would recognize. Or maybe one where he discussed "edible foodlike substances," which are, according to Michael, often disguised as real food.

Reaction Two: An "oh my God"-like gasp, followed by vigorous head-nodding, a sense of brother- (or sister-) hood, and an in-depth discussion of how they selected their CSA, the size of their garden, and what's growing there this year.

Michael Pollan is simply that good - practical enough to be widely read, yet bold enough to be widely scorned. My wife saw Michael Pollan on TV discussing The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, his previous book, and bought it immediately. But as fascinating as it was, it was a real commitment - more than either of us could comfortably make at the time. So when In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto was released last year, we ran to the bookstore and took a look.

The cover is beautiful, and at only 201 small pages (plus notes, index, and acknowledgments), it seemed like a much smaller commitment. Little did I know. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto is easily my favorite book of the past year (and I've read new ones by Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers: The Story of Success), Will Self (The Butt: A Novel), Philip Roth (Exit Ghost (Vintage International)), and other greats), and the one most likely to impact my life by an enormous margin.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto is about how to eat right, how to recognize good, real food, and how to enjoy food again. And this seems to be Pollan's primary point - that the madness surrounding our food choices have nothing to do with food at all. They are a product of neuroses, of marketing, of lobbyists - of everything except ourselves and our needs. The most appealing part of the book to me is how very doable it seems. Pollan doesn't write about giving up meat, or eggs, or milk, or sweets. He doesn't say we should give up alcohol (au contraire, he recommends it, in small amounts). On the grounds of common sense, Pollan argues that we should make choices that make us happy - we should eat with friends and family, take our time, and eat as though our food matters. He even suggests spending more money on foods that make us live longer. defesne-of-foodThere's so much that's so good in the book that I've decided to make bloggong about it an ongoing concern, but for now, here's an excerpt taken from Michael Pollan's website:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give the game away right here at the beginning of a whole book devoted to the subject, and I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a couple hundred more pages or so. 

I’ll try to resist, but will go ahead and add a few more details to flesh out the recommendations. Like, eating a little meal isn’t going to kill you, though it might be better approached as a side dish than as a main. And  you’re better off eating whole fresh foods rather than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to “eat food,” which is not quite as simple as it sounds. For while it used to be that food was all you could eat, today there are thousands of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket.

Have you read the book? Love it? Hate it? I'd love to hear from you, either way.