The first book I read by Michael Pollan was Food Rules, put out after In Defense of Food, and this intro touches on a lot of what he covers in that book. If you haven’t read it, buy it now. It’s pretty much my manual for eating.
The mantra of In Defense of Food is “Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” Let’s break that down:
- Eat Food: This seems really simple, but the fact that he feels the need to mention it emphasizes the problems in our Western diet. Pollan says that most of the foods we eat are instead food-like substances, processed foods masquerading with nutritional claims and packed with “nutrients.” This is not what real food is. (TIP: What I try to make myself do is stick to the outside circle of the grocery store – You pass the produce, bakery, “dairy,” bulk foods, and all the good stuff and you miss the processed foods in the middle) .
- Not too Much: Most of the meals we eat are not ones that have our full attention. We snack mindlessly in front of the TV, we eat in the car on the way to work, or we eat for the simple fact that the food is in front of us. Being present for the meal is just as important as eating the right food.
- Mostly Plants: The Western diet is such that traditionally our meat takes up at least half of our plate, while side vegetables have a much smaller presence. What Pollan wants us to do is think of meat as a side dish and have vegetables take the main course. We need to focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, instead of our current diet, which is mostly meat, processed foods, fats and sugars.
Our food has undergone major shifts in recent generations. Our grandparents cooked with animal fat. Our parents were told that animal fat would kill us and instead used margarine. Now, we’re finding out that margarine has more harmful side effects than anything made from animal fat, and that we need to remove trans fats from our diet. Many food-like substances produced during the low-fat “healthy food” kick that amplified during the 80s and 90s have affected us in a negative way, and we’re just now starting to learn and come out from that.
This book is broken into three parts. The first goes into the history of “nutritionism,” the second is about the Western diet, and the third provides suggestions for escaping nutritionism. Over the next week or so I’ll be writing a couple posts that cover off on Part I, and by the 21st I’ll be discussing Part II.
- Michael Pollan says to get suspicious of foods that boast health claims on their packaging. What do you see on the packaging of your foods at home?
- What do you think are the trendy nutrients of 2012-2013? Omega-3s? Flax? Superfoods?
- In what ways do you feel you’d like to improve your current diet?
- If you eat meat, do you think you would be willing to adjust your portions so that it is more of a side dish in your daily meals?
Buy the book, comment here, talk to your friends and family about these questions, and let’s all evaluate the way we eat.