Literary Criticism and Significance
Just as the argument in Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food cuts across a number of disciplines, touching on nutrition, ecology, science, ideology, health, and culture, so critical responses to it come from a variety of voices and disciplines. More striking than the range of voices answering Pollan is how markedly they differ and what these different voices find to praise or take issue with. In fact, the responses tell us a great deal about who Pollan offends or harms—more about that, in fact, than about the actual quality of his work.
To begin generally, few books on nutrition science and government regulations get reviewed by Entertainment Weekly, but this one did: Jennifer Reese found it "witty" and "commonsensical," and had nothing bad to say about it. The review in Newsweek also praised it and, more usefully, found Pollan's concerns indicative of a larger cultural shift.
Those working within the nutrition field seem concerned that Pollan will indeed spark such a shift. Mary Ann Liebert, writing in Obesity Management, praises the book for its writing, the quality of its ideas, and many of its specific dietary suggestions. However, she takes issue with its tone, which she labels as "antiresearch, antigovernment, and antibusiness." She also finds his ideas undersupported and lacking historical context. Finally and interestingly, Liebert locates Pollan on the left, although Pollan himself does not call for the sort of government intervention that most often defines leftist politics. Ronald Doering, writing for Food in Canada, labels the book as another "trenchant rant" and says that the book is "unrelentingly biased and often fatally flawed." Doering's seven years as a food regulator in Canada leads him to dismiss Pollan's argument about how completely national regulatory bodies have been manipulated as ill founded. The review for Food Management (a trade journal for the food industry) referred to the book as a "broadside attack" on current "food culture." It picks out Pollan's argument that "industrially farmed animals and plants are nutritionally" inferior to those raised by other means as his most controversial claims, it but doesn't say what flaws his approach might have.
By contrast, those further away from Pollan's target, both geographically and conceptually, seem more at ease with his work. Reviewing the book for the Australian journal Nutrition & Dietetics , John Coveney praised the book's style and indicated that some of its recommendations would be useful for many readers; he also found its history incomplete and its main points not to be new. In a brief...
(The entire section is 630 words.)