Following close on the heels of the very successful publishing of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the release of the movie Food Inc., Michael Pollan’s latest book, In Defense of Food, is one that attempts to address, in an even simpler way, the question of what we “should” eat. He examines that question in depth, trying to navigate through the supermarket, the diet industry, the health food industry, and every other place where we find and choose food.
The book is not a guide to certain foods that will make you healthy but much more of an examination of both the philosophy and the science of what food has become in the United States. Pollan takes the stance that our amazingly complex approach to food and food products is very likely getting us into more trouble than it is saving us from.
The book grew out of a 2007 article titled “Unhappy Meals,” which was published in the New York Times Magazine. Like in his other works, Pollan’s description of the issues is thorough and couched in a great deal of anecdotal and well-researched evidence that help to move along the discussion. He examines in detail the way that we have constructed an approach to food that he labels “nutritionism,” an approach that focuses on eating “nutrients” rather than simply food.
Pollan follows the rise of this outlook from its inception to its current state and describes many of the effects. He describes the low-fat craze (now apparently being debunked) to the craze for fiber. He also examines the basic idea that we look at food as a compilation of nutrients rather than as something edible. His basic premise is that we would likely be better off ignoring most (if not all) of food science and, as he counsels us, simply to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”
Pollan writes that he has given away the entire story in the first line, but again, as he did in Omnivore’s Dilemma, he continues in great detail and with an intriguing style into what that means and how it goes from a simple to a very complex question.
The second and third portions of the book are a further examination of how our eating culture became what it is. Pollan then provides a very straight-forward examination of the ways to escape from the negative aspects of what he calls “The Western Diet.”
The book has already seen relatively wide commercial and critical success. Published in 2008, it rose to the top of the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction and stayed at the top for six weeks.