Book Review: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
For a book that depressed me tremendously in the first half, surprisingly, I ended up loving it.
The book opens with three simple sentences:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Then Pollan takes his reader on a journey through the history of food and nutrition in America. The narrator is great, but hearing about policy decision after policy decision that made understanding nutrition more and more convoluted is truly frustrating.
This picture of the industrialization of food conjures images of highly processed and refined foods, mostly carbohydrates. Foods that provide a longer shelf life in exchange for being less nutritious. Think white flour and white rice.
Pollan shares that less than 10% of our income as Americans is spent on food. We spend less than one hour per day preparing meals, and just a little more than one hour a day enjoying those meals.
The most distressing statement comes from a nutritionist who Pollan interviewed. Pollan reported that this expert told him that we're undergoing a national experiment investigating what happens when people mainline glucose.
I've had more than one family member develop diabetes in their adult life, so this statement is particularly sobering for me.
In the second half of the book; however, I started to perk up.
Pollan shares advice that he's gathered and he makes these action steps achievable. The pieces I will remember from listening to this audiobook? There are actually quite a few.
Avoid health claims. Basically, real food, whole food probably won't come in a package designed with an eye-catching, but nonsense label.
Don't eat foods that I'm unfamiliar with.
Don't eat foods that I can't pronounce.
Don't eat foods that have more than five ingredients.
Don't eat anything with high fructose corn syrup.
If I must shop at the grocery store, shop the edge of the supermarket. I'm much more likely to find real food around the periphery.
Go to the Farmer's Market to buy my food. Shake the hand of the person who feeds me.
Pay more, eat less. Buy nutritionally dense food and enjoy it. Eat slowly. Be mindful of when I'm full. Then stop eating.
Eat meals. Eat meals at the table. My desk does not count as a table. This section was particularly interesting to me. Pollan points out how everyone "prepares" their own meal. Even eight-year-olds can operate a microwave! Since food-like products are customized for certain family members, everyone eats a favorite meal choice. The result? People eat more.
Don't eat alone if I can help it. I'm less likely to stuff myself if I'm slowly enjoying a meal with another person.
And then there was this classic snark. Accurate snark, though. Gas stations are processed corn stations. Outside I buy ethanol for my car. Inside I buy high fructose corn syrup for me. Don't buy food at the gas station.
At just under six and a half hours, this audiobook is well worth a read. I feel like I'm even more empowered to make better food choices because Pollan removes many illusions about what constitutes a healthy diet. Choosing what to cook shouldn't be a puzzle. And Pollan points out some easy steps that I can out into motion now to improve my relationship with food.