In Defense of Food

20071231indefenseoffood.jpgGenerally positive reviews are starting to trickle in for Michael Pollan's new book In Defense of Food, which officially hit the shelves January 1. Following on the success of The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food picks up where the former left off urging a return to simpler, whole-foods approach to eating. He gives us neatly-packaged mantras: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." And, "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

Like The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Botany of Desire before it, Pollan's most recent book is also broken into discrete sections to present a logically constructed, multi-faceted view of a complex topic. The first of three parts tackles the idea he calls "nutritionism," by which he refers to the reductionist approach taken by many scientists that treat our food as an assemblage of components (fats, carbs, proteins). The second tackles diseases of the so-called Western diet, including Type 2 Diabetes. The third and final section offers us ways to "escape the Western Diet" by avoiding heavily processed foods.

While the reviews are mostly good, some think Pollan's advice is too broad. Regarding his guideline, "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food," Charles Matthews of the San Francisco Chronicle says:

This needs a bit more explanation. After all, many of our great-grandmothers weren't exposed to the great multicultural bounty we find in stores and restaurants, so a lot of them wouldn't recognize some perfectly wholesome stuff as edible. Calamari, for example, or tofu... But Pollan's point is this: Great-Grandmother never cooked with guar gum, carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, modified food starch, soy lecithin and any number of other ingredients found in processed food. She would never eat cotton, but cottonseed oil is commonplace in all sorts of the "edible foodlike substances" found in supermarkets today.

Matthews himself might be a bit misleading here. Even though his great-grandmother never ate calamari or tofu, there were surely many great-grandmothers in other parts of the world eating those two things. And they certainly weren't eating any modified food starch or any of the other industrially processed ingredients mentioned.

If you've read the book and have some early thoughts on it, let us know. It will be interesting to see what the broader reactions will be given the hype and given the level of love many people have for Omnivore's Dilemma.

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