Book Review: In Defense of Food


I picked up my copy of Michael Pollan’s  In Defense of Food  and read it cover to cover in three days.  It was like no other diet/healthy lifestyle/nutrition/green living book I had ever read before. 

Pollan begins by discussing what he calls the “American Paradox,” which he describes as the phenomenon that the more Americans become obsessed with food, health, and diets, the more overweight and unhealthy we as a nation become.  Pollan encourages us to stop obsessing, and follow his three simple rules: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  He also urges us to enjoy what we eat, and to eat within a culture, for example at a table with our families or friends.

Pollan also discusses what he calls nutritionism, or science’s way of trying to explain what is healthy to eat and what is not.  He criticizes the way that nutrients are singled-out, studied individually and not in combination with the other parts of the food that containts them.  The idea that science is not complete enough to explain everything about nutrition is a common theme throughout the book.  As is the idea that the combinations of the nutrients, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals (and other yet unidentified components) in foods are more than just the sum of the parts, but rather have interactions that we don’t understand. 

I really liked Pollan’s suggestion that, if your great-grandmother would not recoginze something as food, then it’s not food.  This statement made me think about my (Great) Grandma Rose, who lived for 99 1/2 years before she passed away when I was in high school.  She cooked everyday, eating what was in season on the farm, and went for a walk around the farm everyday until her late 90’s.  She made all her meals from scratch and froze foods when they were in season so they could last her the year. 

Would Grandma Rose recognize some of the food-like substances that fill grocery stores today as food?  Maybe, since she lived until 1997, but she certainly would not have in her younger years.  And she would never have dreamed of feeding her family fast food.  Why? Because that was not her food culture.  Grandma’s food culture was a kitchen full of loving children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, all enjoying whatever she had made from scratch.  We enjoyed our meals or coffee breaks there together.  The food was great, but that time was also filled with our New England, Yankee culture: conversations, stories, debates, play time, and love.  We didn’t shove as much food into our mouths in as little time as possible, but chose to enjoy eachother’s company.

Grandma Rose’s food culture is what I want to create for my own family.  I believe that it was a combination of Grandma’s food culture, regular exercise, and a bit of good genetics that allowed her to live such a healthy life for so long.  I thank Michael Pollan for bringing me this realization, and for helping me to rediscover my own food heritage.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to any person who wants to stop obsessing and feeling guilty about food, and would like to develop his or her own food culture and learn to enjoy food again.


Filed under Food, Local Agriculture, Review, Sustainable Living

2 responses to “Book Review: In Defense of Food

  1. Abbie,

    I LOVE your review of Michael Pollan’s book as well as your entire blog! You have inspired me to read, “In Defense of Food,” and your memories of Grandma Rose are so vivid, clear, and I truly believe that’s who the author is talking about when he says that if your great-grandmother doesn’t recognize something as food, it probably isn’t!!!

    Grandma Rose did dole out ample portions of her filled cookies, blueberry cobbler, strawberry shortcake, tollhouse cookies, and coffee cake in that wonderfully warm kitchen of hers, along with heaping portions of time and affection as she read books to you that she had created from fabric and recycled greeting cards. She also didn’t mind when your brothers or cousins dumped out the entire box of wooden blocks on the kitchen floor when they would build castles and creations only to knock them down and build them again. I do believe you had Grandma Rose twisted around your little finger, especially when she would spend hours showing you all the intricate figurines that she had on display in her “Secretary,” or desk in the livingroom. I think you may have some of those figures in your own home today. I also know that you enjoy trying recipes from Grandma’s cookbook, even though the directions are not as exact as today’s with the time or temperature that something should be cooked at. I know that you also know when it’s “just right,” just as Grandma did. Remember you and Dad trying to perfect her Wintergreen candies at Christmas time?

    Abbie…….thank you so much for keeping Grandma’s memories alive in how you live your life today. Grandma surely would approve of your “green” living, commonsense approach!

    I hope, someday, to be that kind of Grandma myself, so I guess I’d better perfect my cooking repertoire, or maybe I can leave that part to you and I’ll just play and read with the grandchildren!

    Thank you so much for sharing your blog!

    Love you,

    Comment by Ruth — March 29, 2008 @ 3:49 am

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  2. Pingback: Why I Love Quilts « Farmer’s Daughter

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