In Defense of Food–An Eater’s Manifesto (Book Review)
Written By: Dr. Wegmann
In Defense of Food” gives you a guided tour of 20th century food science, a history of “nutritionism” in America and a snapshot of the marriage of government and the food industry. And then it steps up to the reason most readers will buy it. and if you care for your health and the health of your loved ones this is a read for you.
IN DEFENSE OF FOOD is divided into three parts: “The Age of Nutritionism” (which defines and explains what scientists have done with your food while you were dozing for a few decades on that “sugar high”); “The Western Diet and the Diseases of Civilization” (which convincingly connects the dots between the western diet science and Big Food have teamed up to give us and sickness); and “Getting Over Nutritionism” (which sets out a game plan for you to turn over a new leaf — then eat it).
Michael Pollan sums things up very simply: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By which Pollan means: Eat natural food, the kind your grandmother served (and not because she was so wise, but because the food industry had not yet learned that the big money was in processing, not harvesting). Use meat sparingly. Eat your greens, the leafier and more varied the better.
Pollan insists that you have to save yourself. And he makes a good case why. Our government, he says, is so overwhelmed by the lobbying and marketing power of our processed food industry that the American diet is now 50% sugar in one form or another — calories that provide “virtually nothing but energy.” Our representatives are almost uniformly terrified to take on the food industry. And as for the medical profession, the key moment, Pollan writes, is when “doctors kick the fast-food franchises out of the hospital”
What to do? Like so much today, food truth is hard to find. We can’t trust government to tell us the truth because it is influenced by the industrial agriculture giants that produce most food. We certainly can’t trust labels using “natural” to describe chemical agglomerations. And, frankly, we can’t trust doctors because they are simply not educated about food. Nutritionists? Many are educated, but how do we learn their bias? And, can they overcome “the pitfalls of reductionism and overconfidence?”
One point I think Michael Pollan misses is how far removed we have become from the real food. For example; I agree and practice most of the things Pollan has suggested in his book. We go as far as harvesting our own “free range” chicken on our farm. My parents who are much healthier than 90% of the people their age will not be present or help us clean the chickens. They would still rather buy processed chickens from the store to avoid the process of cleaning them. Less than two generations ago most people harvested their own vegetables and meat, and today people can’t handle the reality of handling their own food.
The industrialization of food production, that’s what went wrong. Together with mass marketing and mass lobbying of Congress, the food industry created a situation where what we eat was no longer decided upon by culture and tradition. Rather, eating became a matter decided upon by corporate executives, lobbyists, politicians and nutritionists, many of whom were employed by the food processing industry itself. Naturally, they recommended that we eat more processed food. And when this food turned out to be dangerous, the industry responded to pressure by simply producing even more processed food, now with some extra “nutrient” added to make it look healthier. Once again, there is a connection between the phoney food produced by modern industry, and the periodic health fads and health crazes.
This gets two thumbs up!