You ever have a moment when you realize that you have educated yourself on a topic, and you are excited to be armed with knowledge, but also frustrated about the reality of the world around you, and also a little sad about no longer having the sweet sweet shroud of ignorance to protect you? Read this book with caution, my friend. Because you will never look at food, your food choices, and the concept of “healthy” eating the same way again.
I will caveat to say that I was already vaguely familiar with most of the information in this book. I am very passionate about food and healthy eating and over the years have amassed information about both through thorough and consistent information gathering. In addition, I am a board member of Slow Food Chicago, an international organization that is focused on supporting cultural food traditions and food that is good, clean and fair, so this stuff is sort of my bread and butter (food wordplay!).
I am, not by design, but happenstance, reading Pollan’s books backwards. I started with “Food Rules,” which is essentially a super short tome (less than 200 pages, and every other page is just blank except for a little picture) that distills what he has learned over the years as a food journalist into an easily palatable guide for what you should eat. I have now listened to “In Defense of Food” and next will probably go to “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which is his first book about food and the food industry.
This is a well-researched book, but definitely slanted. Pollan is critical of food scientists, the entire field of nutrition, and any regulating government body as it comes to food. And why? Because we have systematically been liked to regarding what is “good” for us and what is “bad” for us, and what we should eat. This isn’t necessarily a deliberate plan for subterfuge, but rather the combination of research in a new industry, and the consistent and deliberate maneuvering of special interest groups. The information is constantly changing. We were told not to eat butter, and everyone was shepherded toward margarine. But turns out, margarine is more deleterious than butter ever was.
The good news, is that Pollan emphasizes again and again that we know what to do, we just aren’t doing it. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. That’s his refrain, and if you take it to heart, you just may find a little clarity and confidence amongst the confusion of ever-changing dietary rules.