What is Pollan's central thesis in In Defense of Food?
Michael Pollan is regarded by many as a revolutionary in the food world of the United States. (His influence can be felt all throughout the world, though.) For Pollan, the big question is, "When we can eat everything, how do we know what we should eat?" In his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, he tackles this question head on, and expands upon these ideas with In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.
Pollan argues in In Defense of Food that many people today, especially the majority of the United States, don't eat "real food." We eat "food-like substances--" that is, stuff that has been processed, refined, and had nutrition added back in such a way that it resembles food but it utterly different from something like a fresh tomato or whole beef steak. In the United States (and elsewhere), most of the food you find in a grocery store falls into the category of food-like substances. What we gain in preservation and regularity of a food item, we lose in nutrition, flavor, and sustainability.
Pollan encourages people to reject the highly-processed diet which focuses on nutrition more than it focuses on whether a food is actually a real, healthful food item. He feels that Western culture has become so caught up in "nutritionism," equating it with health, that we might prefer a product that advertises a certain amount of nutritional quality rather than a food which naturally has the same. For example, people might be more inclined to eat crackers which advertise four grams of fiber per serving over a bowl of steamed cracked wheat.
Pollan's book rejects the industrial food complex and engineered foods while defending the tradition, health qualities, and environmental sustainability of eating whole, real foods. Pollan previously introduced us to the mantra, "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." In this particular book, I feel he would alter this statement to begin with, "Eat real food."