I recently read In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan (available through your local bookstore). I highly recommend it! This might be the last “diet” book you ever read, even though it’s not a diet book as such.
The book’s basic message is right on the cover: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” So why go further? Because this very entertaining, short book explains the need for a common sense approach to eating: our need for whole foods, why they’re so hard to come by, and how to change that.
Pollan asserts that commercial agriculture and the food industry has successfully created an obsession with food in American society. We have gotten so hung up on eating healthily that we believe even the most outrageous health claims made by advertisers and packagers. Examples of his point abound in our culture: just this week I heard that for a short time, labeling on the presweetened kid’s cereal, Lucky Charms, hinted that it helped prevent H1N1 flu! Pollan tells us that to survive, we need to break away from this, and change the way we eat.
I must admit, we found this book very affirming. It made a lot of sense to us. We’ve always favored whole foods over processed “food-like substances,” as Pollan terms them. Our lifestyle has led us to develop eating habits that are very close to Pollan’s recommendations. In Defense of Food preached fervently to this section of the choir! Still, we learned a few ways in which we could improve our diet, and our health.
On the other hand, it requires a certain paradigm shift. As Pollan points out, it is very hard to go against what the “experts” have “always told us.” Particularly, I’m grappling with the idea that fats aren’t that bad for us, and are actually necessary. That I can believe. It’s the idea that we may not need to regulate the amount we eat that concerns me. True, we find that we need to worry very little about fat intake here on the homestead, but I’m willing to bet that we’re far more active than the average American. We’re doing fine, but I worry about people who might take Pollan’s words to mean that they can eat whatever they like while continuing to be sedentary. Eating whole foods means eating the fat with the lean, not pigging out on fatty “foodlike substances.”
The book is so engaging and so simple that it doesn’t make sense for me to tell you more, or analyze it further. If you own or have ever read a diet book, or tried to follow any diet, read this small book. You may find that there’s a better way to eat, one that allows a lot of the foods forbidden by these diets, yet leaves you far healthier than you may have been before.