In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

in-defense-of-foodI finally got around to reading the book I won last year, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. I’ve been hearing more and more about this book in the media so I was pretty excited to finally have the time to sit down and read it. I have got to say, this was a fantastic book. Pollan takes you through the history of the rise of industrialized food and ‘Nutritionism’ – the rise of the nutrient taking the place of the enjoyment of food (pretty much every processed food is supplemented because of our worship of the nutrient). It is well written, documenting various studies on different people groups. My favorite study in the book (and one that represents my food philosophy) is one where a psychologist did a word association with pictures of food with Americans and the French. A picture of chocolate cake showed up and the Americans top word was ‘guilt’. The French word association? ‘Celebration’. Wow. Nutritionism has screwed up the way we should enjoy food! The nutrient is not inherently bad, it’s fantastic in it’s original state! But nutritional science has isolated nutrients and lacks the ability to study the nutrients as part of the whole, and instead studies the impact of the individual distorting and possibly misunderstanding how the nutrient truly works in our bodies. Essentially, his observation and recommendation is that we reassess our relationship to food, subtract any sort of processed foods from our diets (if it’s boxed and says ‘healthy’, it’s probably processed and pumped full of random nutrients that may or may not be good for us), stop listening to the media and food industry to guide our food choices and try to emulate almost any other culture’s diet (Asian, Mediterranean, Greek, etc) because their incidence of Western diseases is less and their enjoyment of food is higher (Americans overstress themselves out over food). This book has further reinforced my love of cooking and of sitting down and enjoying a meal with other people. I believe that this is the healthiest way to eat, no matter how much butter, cream, salt, sugar or saturated fat is at the table (as long as it’s not processed).

“As cook in your kitchen you enjoy an omniscience about your food that no amount of supermarket study or label reading could hope to match. Having retaken control of the meal from the food scientists and processors, you know exactly what is and is not in it: There is no questions about high-fructose corn syrup, or ethoxylated diglycerides, or partially hydrogenated soy oil, for the simple reason that you didn’t ethoxylate or partially hydrogenate anything, nor did you add  any additives. (Unless, that is, you’re the kind of cook who starts with a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, in which case all bets are off.) To reclaim this much control over one’s food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing anything of your own food qualify as subversive acts.

“And what these acts subvert is nutritionism: the belief that food is foremost about nutrition and nutrition is so complex that only experts and industry can possibly supply it. When you’re cooking with food as alive as this . . . you’re in no danger of mistaking it for a commodity, or a fuel, or a collection of chemical nutrients. No, in the eye of the cook or the gardener or the farmer who grew it, this food reveals itself for what it is: no mere thing but a web of relationships among a great many living beings, some of them human, some not, but each of them dependent on the other, and all of them ultimately rooted in soil and nourished by sunlight. I’m thinking of the relationship between the plants and the soil, between the grower and the plants and animals he or she tends, between the cook and the growers who supply the ingredients, and between the cook and the people who will some come to the table to enjoy the meal. Itt is a large community to nourish and be nourished by. The cook in the kitchen preparing a meal from plants and animals at the end of this shortest food change has a great many things to worry about, but “health” is simple not one of them, because it is given.”

Fantastic. Worth reading and reevaluating how you eat. I couldn’t put it down once I picked it up. 9.5/10


  1. Posted January 20, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sounds really good. I think those studies are really interesting!

  2. Posted January 20, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I want to read this one…but I also want to read that other book you suggested for book club. Animal Vegetable Miracle. I am kind of holding out until I know which one we will pick. 🙂

  3. Posted January 20, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

    My husband LOVED this book. Good writing.

  4. Posted January 21, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink | Reply

    It’s funny there’s a book out about this. Katie and Mom have been saying this for years! And in addition to eating whatever unprocessed foods you want, just be sure to eat them in moderation. We probably shouldn’t have “celebrations” everyday 😉

  5. Elizabeth
    Posted January 21, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink | Reply

    Very true. Moderation is a good way to live your life in general. 🙂

  6. nickiberthiaume
    Posted January 21, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    AH! I’ve put this down, and I want to finish it, but I can’t seem to find the time I need (and sometimes the desire) to pick it back up!

    Glad you liked it. Makes you think about what you’re eating. It even makes me think twice about things that are labeled “organic”.

  7. cooperella
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’m halfway through, really enjoying it so far! animal, vegetable miracle changed my way of looking at food once already, and I can tell that this book is going to continue to develop/refine my food choices. EVERYone should have to read these books!

  8. Elizabeth
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I think everyone should read it too!

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  1. […] to do. It supported what I believe is the way we should be eating beef (especially after reading In Defense of Food) and it was cost effective. $3.75 per pound of all cuts of meat. Quite the steal, […]

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