I finished the first book that was on my “make sure to read this year list”. It was on the top of my list for at least six months and I honestly don’t know why I put it off as long as I did. There are a lot of books that I think everyone should read, there are far fewer books that I know everyone should read and In Defense of Food is one of them. I think it took me three or four days to read, but only because my eyes still aren’t finished healing and it’s hard for my eyes to focus when I read.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. That is the foundation of In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan was able to articulate something that I have felt intuitively about food for years but was never able to articulate, nor was I able to back my thoughts up with any of the nutrition science that has been floating around for years.
Pollan starts with some history of the science of nutrition and goes on from there. He ends with several “rules” about eating that, if I were to follow, would cut my stress and worry I feel as well as my waistline.
I’ve heard how meat is bad for you, avocados have too much fat, eggs are too high in cholesterol, fruit has too much sugar and wheat and the accompanying carbs will just make you fat. When I heard those arguments, while on the surface they all made sense, I could help but think they were wrong. After all, our not to distant ancestors ate those things and had none of the diet related problems we had today.
I’ve been looking for vegan recipes lately and more often than not I would find one that looked good but when I looked at the ingredient list I would see things like “vegan cheese” or “vegan sour cream”. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t good and natural vegan alternatives to those things but the idea that something that could not be duplicated in my kitchen was better for you than the meat/dairy product that could come straight from a natural source really bothered me. For the last several years I have felt that no matter what the claim was, a food that could only be created in a chemistry lab could not be better/healthier for you than say, raw or organic milk or butter. I didn’t want my food to contain “trade secrets” so to speak.
In Defense of Food justified all of my feelings on what food should be about with the science to back it up. That science (or lack thereof) basically being “a whole food is more than the sum of it’s nutrients” and no one knows why.
None of this is groundbreaking, my sister has been saying stuff like this for years, though it’s hard to see the truth through the haze of “healthy” claims. I can see why people don’t understand. There is a lot of conflicting information out there and even with health experts saying that whole foods are the best, they use phrases like “food isn’t fun, it’s fuel”. I would look at vegans and their sad salads and think “no wonder they are thin, I wouldn’t want to eat if that was all I had either.”; and the idea of excluding bread from my diet makes me want to cry.
But whole foods, I can do.
Pollan also talks extensively about the culture of food and how traditional food culture is just as important to our health as what we are eating. In case you are wondering, Americans don’t have a food culture. If they did, it would be “eat as much as you can as fast as you can”. Eating dinner together as a family (like in the 50’s) is important. Spending a lot of time on your meal before you eat it is important. Being conscious and pro-active in every ingredient in your meal is important. Be as involved with your ingredients as you can and cut out as many “middle men” as you can.
One thing he said that really struck me was “… paying more for food – in every sense – will reduce the amount of it we eat…In the last decade or two we have found the time in the day to spend several hours on the Internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second (cell) phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority. We spend a smaller percentage of our income on food than any other industrialized society; surely if we decide that the quality of our food mattered, we could afford to spend a few more dollars on it a week – and eat a little less of it.”
Not to mention the fact that if we spend a little more on our food choices (both in money and time) we would spend far less than we do on medical bills/insurance/Obamacare (though the idea that if we were healthier our taxes would be lowered is a pipe dream if ever there was one). As a side note, Pollan seemed to pick on the subsidizing/overreaching and regulatory government almost half as much as he picked on the evil capitalists, so his statist ideology didn’t bother me as much as it could have, but that might just have been because Bush was president at the time :)
After reading In Defense of Food I am finally at peace with the way have always wanted my family to eat. The trick is not giving in to the ease of processed food and not having seconds. Though I think that I will be looking into Flexitarianism. It’s fun to have a word to go along with what I am :)