BOOK REVIEW: In Defense of Food: an Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan

August 20, 2008

By Morgen Alexander-Young, HSC Guest Blogger

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  So opens Michael Pollan’s new book, In Defense of Food, with these complete instructions for healthy eating.  In this best-selling work, Pollan examines the influence of the vast food processing industry on the field of nutrition science.  He outlines how nutrition information is based less on sound science and more on a mixture of faith, commerce, and agricultural policy.  He describes this mixture (or rather, borrows from the Australian sociologist Gyorgy Scrinis) as “nutritionism.”   

Pollan contends that the modern scientific practice of isolating certain nutrients to test for health or harm is not how to advance wholesome eating.  He instead points toward evidence from both human evolution and non-Westernized societies as to how we should eat in order to be healthy.  He maintains that our relationship to our food- our understanding of where it is grown and raised, who labored to produce it, how it is transported, from whom we buy it, and how we prepare and share and enjoy it- are crucial to our health and well-being.  Pollan suggests that through cooking and eating whole, unprocessed foods we may combat three catastrophic chronic diseases that plague the United States in this modern era: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.