Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

Its always easier to like and recommend a book when it summarizes what you already believe.  I had a good friend comment (while we were chowing down at a party) “you’re so thin, you can eat anything”.   I didn’t say anything, but I’m thin because I DON'T just eat anything; I work to eat things that taste good and are good for you (and if not, don’t eat it!).   I quit using margarine probably 25 years ago (I had a good job and could afford “real” butter), I stopped drinking (and never started eating) stuff with artificial sweeteners 10 years ago,  discovered farmers markets 15 years ago in California, and over the last few years, have eliminated High Fructose Corn Syrup and trans-fats from my diet (so I use all butter in my piecrust instead of shortening).  I consider myself  lucky in that I like vegetables (always have), I like to cook, don't have a big sweet tooth, and grew up eating meals consisting of real food, with a minimum of junk food (thanks Mom).  So, I recommend reading this book, but realize its going to be harder for others to swallow than it was for me.

In Defense of Food builds on Michael Pollan’s first book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.   This book goes to the next step, successfully explaining how things have become so confused, and why people on the typical American diet have so many overwhelming health issues that are directly attributed to what they eat.  He cuts through the blather of what we hear (low-fat, high-fiber, no-cholesterol!) with a simple fact: the information on nutrition is simply missing a lot of data. Most of the studies are fundamentally flawed (such as relying on what individuals remember what they ate, or believing that they can isolate one food element without regard to other elements, some of which they don’t even know exist). On top of that, marketing organizations ("pork...the other white meat") further distort the data and influence governments and other large organizations to serve their bottom line, not our waist line. The solid data available is pretty limited:  trans-fats are bad, large amounts of highly refined carbohydrates are bad, vegetables are good. The best studies have shown that returning to diets that were typical of 100 years or more ago (before we started “refining” food) substantially improved health.   And that results in the manifesto: Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.   One of the things that I liked about The Omnivore's Dilemma  that he did not prescribe a solution, he (tried) to stay objective to the subject of discussing where the food came from.  Here he delves into how to fix it… good information, but I’m not sure that it’s persuasive enough to get people to change.  He does give some good tips (“eat food your great-grandmother would recognize”). And its good to keep me on the path that I’m on.   

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