In his latest book, In Defense of Food–An Eater’s Manifesto (The Penguin Press 2009), Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Bounty of Desire, and other books, argues for the eating of whole foods preferably grown, cooked and eaten in a social setting with others.
Pollan’s book is very important to the current debate on healthcare reform because it convincing shows how most chronic diseases, the diseases that are swamping the health care system, are diet related and that it makes economic sense to spend a little more money on eating real organically grown food than spending trillions on preventable diseases.
The book starts of with the simple statement: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants, and explains how western civilization has gotten away from eating food and is now eating mostly edible food-like substances.
The 1970’s under Nixon is revisited in the book and how the policies instituted at that time artificially kept the price of corn, soybeans, wheat and rice low through subsidies, and drastically altered the way US citizens eat and thereby increased, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. High fructose corn syrup was approved at that time after an initial rejection by the FDA. It has become almost universally present in processed food to the detriment of overall health.
In the 1980s nutritionism (the belief in nutrition) came about and people stopped eating food, and became fueled by “nutrition.” Pollan shows how nutritionism is a belief not grounded in fact, and that my separating out the nutritional components of food, and adding them to “food-like” substances,” one is left with a deficit because the various parts of any food add up to more than the sum of its individual nutritional parts.
Pollan writes: The big money has always been in processing foods, not selling them whole, and the industry’s investment in the reductionist approach to food is probably safe.
He explains how Coca Cola is planning on introducing vitamin enriched Coke–the ultimate processed junk food-like substance.
The current American diet based on quantity rather than quality has ushered into existence people who are both overfed and undernourished. This is totally contrary to the long history of mankind, and it seems it was only possible in America where there is a tradition of abundance, but not the socializing aspects of a culture built up over thousands of years to temper it with traditional diets.
Pollan writes: Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it: used by the industry to sell more “nutritionally enhanced” processed food and to undermine further the authority of traditional food cultures that stand in the way of fast food.
The core of what Pollan’s book covers is contained here: I no longer think it’s possible to separate our bodily health from the health of the environment from which we eat, or, for that matter, from the heath of our general outlook food and health. This includes the health of the soils, the diversity or lack there or of crops, and the health of the animals eaten based on what they eat and how they are raised.
The low fat diet and many others are addressed in Pollan’s book. They are soundly debunked for the unscientific fraud that they are.
Pollan’s basic advice is to eat whole food, don’t eat anything containing ingredients you don’t understand or can’t pronounce, don’t eat anything containing more than five ingredients or containing high fructose corn syrup. When one starts reading labels, this is more difficult than one anticipated.
Pollan’s book is well written and researched and easy to read. It is recommended reading for anyone interested in food and health.