Michael Pollan doesn’t break any new ground in In Defense of Food, but he drives his point across, giving us a neat little history lesson in the process. Processed foods are bad for you, eat lots of plants and try to avoid overeating. In the process, he gives us a history of nutritionism and how it came to occupy the minds and hearts of the American populace today. Nutritionism is reductionism applied to food, robbing it of its synergy, since simply summing up the nutrients that are present in the food is most emphatically not the food itself. Several examples are cited of indigenous populations that adopted the Western diet and started suffering almost immediately from the Western set of diseases: obesity, heart attacks, diabetes et cetera.
Pollan has some practical tips for us, of which the most memorable one is: don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. This is a very simple metric which has the power to be very effective, since it effectively rules out all that flavoured nonsense coming out of New Jersey. The book is free of dogmatic overtures about both meat and veganism, instead conserving its energy to drive home the point that nutritionism, as a “science” has failed us miserably and is simply reductionism on the part of lab monkeys who wish to isolate variables and then proclaim victories from parts of a whole. It’s not working. Simply eating beta carotene and a few fibres is not the same as eating a carrot, and I think most of us are aware of this fact.
Verdict: read this book to confirm what you mostly knew about food.