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Cannonball Read III: In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

By leuce7 | Books | February 25, 2011 |

By leuce7 | Books | February 25, 2011 |

Last year, being the last year I would spend in my twenties, I decided it would be a good idea to start thinking about how to achieve an optimal me. That led to my requesting anything—advice, suggestions, ideas, etc.—that would aid me on this path to self-improvement. Thus, In Defense of Food was, quite literally, delivered into my hands.

I have always had a very slightly more thorough knowledge of food and exercise than the average person with no particular interest in it, due to the unfortunate ill-health of my family members. Through the experiences of relatives with diabetes and stints in Overeaters Anonymous, I already knew basic concepts like “sugar is bad for you” and “plants are good for you” with a further qualification of “you should try cutting out refined sugar and flours” and “eat more veggies.” And if you do this, you will be a lot healthier.

Okay, so it’s pretty much self-evident, which is the point with which Michael Pollan surprisingly begins his defense. But he then proceeds to slowly point out and clearly unravel all of the problems with what we should, through common-sense, know about eating and how that’s been altered, bit by bit, in the last thirty years by science, the food industry, and media, so drastically in fact, that by the end of it all our Twinkies would probably astound great-great-Grandma just as much as our jet planes.

Pollan writes clearly and engagingly, tracing the development of modern food industry and culture and breaking down why exactly our “food” is not quite the food we should be, and up until fairly recently, had been eating. Even though the book contains plenty of talk of macro- and micronutrients and summaries of studies, none of it comes across as clinical, dense, or boring. Instead, it’s like a breezy chat with your interesting uncle who has rather logical and fascinating tidbits about food at his disposal. The book is extremely accessible and never preachy. It never comes across as touting any sort of cure-all or fad or insanely restrictive and therefore impossible to sustain eating plan that you’ll try in good faith for all of one week before giving up and deep-frying something.

Instead, you come out on the other side with a strong understanding of why it makes sense to eat well, and what exactly “eat well” looks like (it can look French or Japanese or Italian or Inuit or more, but it rarely looks like most of the food America is so well-known for. McDonald’s, I’m looking at you). I finally had a strong understanding of and compelling reason for why I should buy organic, without feeling like I’m a tree-hugging hippie or rabid environmentalist (no offense to either). And, in the end, the book actually made me look forward to eating in a way I never have after reading any other book about diet or nutrition.

Pollan is engaging and succinct—I was actually surprised when I hit page 200 and the book ended shortly thereafter—but he simply and clearly lays out an examination of the way we eat and a suggestion to a new (or, more accurately, a reverting to an old) approach that I feel is actually one of the more important things I’ve read since…well, maybe ever. At least with regards to what I eat and how that affects my health.

The basic version is this: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

If you want more than that, pick up the book. You’ll get a lot out of it.

For more of leuce7’s reviews, check out her blog, Between Something and Nothing.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.