Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Defense of Food: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants

The subtitle of Michael Pollan’s entertaining treatise on how obsession with nutrition has culminated in food-like products is : Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. Pollan turns investigative journalism into a high-entertainment art form. He knowingly winks at the reader as he guides them through the atrocities of health-based obsession from the 19th Century onward.

I especially enjoyed learning of different fad diets and what was constituted as bad ( protein was AWFUL at the turn of the 20th Century and famous eaters like Roosevelt and Morgan reached the heights of insanity to cleanse it from their diet) to margarine ( that minx of a chameleon substance that can shift and shape its nutritional value whenever the health moderators call it out in anger) to nutrients: what are they, how did we find them, should we dissect them, how our ancestors did without them. Pollan makes an interesting case arguing that the more society obsesses over health food, the more obese we become.

The Western Diet: that awful North American misrepresentation of food as health and substance is painted in a garish light: especially when prompted by scientific bases and cover-ups. Pollan doesn’t preach: instead he asks us to read, be informed and contemplate. Do we really feel that the labels high-cholesterol; low cholesterol; saturated fats; low-fat; high protein are shaping us for a health and fervent future? Pollan asserts that stripping decades of confusion will lead us back to food in its purist form: away from the food-like substances that have catapulted on our society and saturated our store shelves. Pollan’s mantra takes us to the heart of the matter in an informed and excessively readable way. Years of being imparted with scientific evidence proving this is good, this is bad, this gives cancer, this cures it have muddled our relationship with a prime human experience.

Pollan lays it all on the table and asks us to call it out. Are fad diets and government concocted pyramids really the most efficient way to question the obesity problem in North America? What can we learn about the nutrients we have obsessed over and how can we better tackle weighty ( no pun intended ) issues like protein and carbohydrates? What actually IS good for you? I think Pollan’s mantra is to strip confusion and over-muddled terminology ( you should see the breakdown of nutrients in a plant such as thyme) and bring us back to basics.

I especially enjoyed when he took us into the science of food and into studies that discussed how every human body is not just a food processing machine and how every variant of food can materialize itself in different ways. Those interested in food and nutrition will enjoy this book. Those who just want a bloody entertaining read by an intelligent and snide observer of human fallacy will also have fun!

1 comment:

Aarti said...

I've not read this one, though I read the fairly similar Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I really enjoyed it and it definitely changed the way I look at the food systems around me.