Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book Review: In Defense of Food

I finished Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food last night. It was a good look at what we should be eating and why, with some information thrown in about why we're not. The basic premise is simple: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

This is one of those books I wish everyone I care about would read. So many people are still stuck in the "It's low-fat!" rut, ignoring the fact that it's loaded with sugars and no real nutritional value, or still think butter is bad/carbs are bad, etc., and cling to every new nutrition pronouncement that comes out in the media.

As I went grocery shopping yesterday I was struck by how little of what was in the store--including the five new products that were being sampled--was real food. Food products were everywhere, wrapped in plastic with unpronounceable ingredients, or promising "Low Fat," "Heart Healthy," or one of the other claims that have appeared on labels in abundance in recent years.

Pollan looks at what has happened to the way we eat becauseof outside factors. One of these is nutritionism, thinking of what to eat in terms nutrients--protein, fat, vitamins, etc.--instead of as food: meat, vegetables, butter, etc. His book goes along with many books and studies that I have read in recent years that question much of the conventional wisdom about how we should eat. The fact that much of that conventional wisdom has come from research studies paid for by food product companies should tell us a great deal.

Pollan also talks about the importance of food culture: the way that we eat, when and with whom. We Americans do far too much of our eating in the car, on the run, by ourselves, in front of a screen, etc. We need to slow down and enjoy our food.

I've been working on improving what we eat. We still have a long way to go. And we will probably never be free from some food products. Cheez-its come to mind. But the next big step for me is to begin working on the how and when. We are almost always on the run. Dinner most nights is cooked by me, but everyone eats it when and where they will. I suppose it would help if I cleared the papers off the kitchen table!

This is one of those times I need to fight the twin demons of perfectionism and procrastination. (I have a tendency to want to be perfect or I just won't try.) We will never be able to eat perfectly. We aren't going to have a farm with our own grass-fed cows and free-range chickens. But we can grow a wide variety of yummy veggies in our garden. I can bake bread. We may not sit down and eat three meals a day at the table together, but we can at least start with dinner.

And with a little work we can eat food, not too much, mostly plants.


Susan said...

Amen! Eat the real food God made instead of the food the scientists developed, and you're on the right track!

But I like the Cheez-its too.

With Gary working and coming home so late, and with no dining room table to sit down around, it has to have been over three weeks since we even had one sit-down meal together. Before the kids got big, it was so easy to eat three real meals together each day. And now three per week would be a significant improvement. Maybe it will be better once we get settled and develop a routine? And yet, those routines sure seem mighty hard to come by...

Me said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had the other day...


Becki said...

Hi Jane,

At the ripe old age of 40-something (garble that something and clear your throat as you say it), the subject of food is both wonderful and painful. Wonderful because I finally feel free to admit what I love to endulge in, but painful because my body won't let me endulge without a hefty price (and I don't mean financial).

I don't need diet books or books that encourage me to exercise (like I ever did). I simply need the perspective that food is real, it isn't going away and I need to make peace with it.

I've put this book on hold at our local library. Thanks for the recommendation.

~ Becki B.