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.