Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Michael Pollan

The vast majority of the map for my food journey will likely be contained in the pages of Michael Pollan's books. I first heard of him through my Women and Food class, and he would occasionally pop up in my other food endeavors. My husband bought In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto for me last summer, and I finally got around to reading it... yesterday. Let me tell you this:

Michael Pollan is my hero.

First of all, he is a journalist. His writing is simple and clear. He breaks down those lengthy and boring journal articles and puts them into plain English. Pollan does not claim to be an expert in food, but his words simply sum up all that is wrong with our eating habits and give us a straightforward solution. Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

The book begins by telling us how our eating habits got so out of whack. As Pollan put it, "what other animal needs professional help in deciding what it should eat?" (p.2). Pollan chalks it up mostly to capitalism, which effectively destroyed our local food systems. In short, manufacturers began processing the food we eat to make it easier to carry it long distances without spoilage. As time goes on, much of the food we eat is hardly food at all, and it seriously lacks in variety. A whopping 1,670 calories (roughly two-thirds) of what we eat each day come from four plants: wheat (768 calories), corn (554 calories), soy (257 calories), and rice (91 calories) (p. 117).

Pollan discusses how scientists are attempting to reduce food to the nutrients that make it up, and then add those needed nutrients to the processed "food" to make it healthier. But much like the formula vs. breast milk debate, the real deal is always better for you. The Western diet has been linked to four of the top-ten causes of death in the United States, so the answer seems simple enough: Stop eating it. Unfortunately, Pollan says, there is hardly anything left in the supermarket that hasn't been tainted with science. So where does that leave people like me that want to make healthier food changes?

Pollan finishes to the book with some basic guidelines for good eating. Simply put, Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. Perhaps my favorite advice is to go back to your roots and eat the foods your great-grandmother would eat. Think about it, traditional ethnic fair has been around for hundreds of years. The food can't be that bad for you if it wasn't killing off your ancestors, right? Pollan also recommends eating as much local food as possible and even planting a garden if you're able.

All in all, a great read. I'm probably going to publish this post and then get on Amazon to order his other books.

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