book: in defense of food.

I credit my mom with making me a food snob. All my life, she’s made our meals and deserts from scratch. As a result, I grew up thinking that was the only way for food to be made. I was appalled when learned that my friends bought ready-made pie crust or even whole pies at the grocery store instead of making them from scratch. Or made cakes out of boxes. Or only ate cookies that were made by Keebler.

As a child, I’ll admit that sometimes I was jealous, because I wanted to be allowed Poptarts and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Gushers. As an adult, I’m deeply grateful, because I grew up eating and learning to make real and nutritious food instead of developing a reliance on processed foods.

In college, I majored in International Studies, with a focus on healthcare. During that time, I became particularly interested in food–food policy, nutrition, cooking and baking food, vegetarianism, food stability… I started reading books and watching documentaries about food. I became a vegetarian. And of course, as I’ve become more informed about the effects of the current American diet, I’ve become more and more grateful for my mother’s health and cooking principles.

The latest book I’ve read on the subject of the Western diet, is Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food.” In summary, it discusses the status of the American diet today and its effects on the health of Americans. Pollan argues that Americans have become overly concerned about their nutrition, resulting in “nutritionism,” when people focus on nutrients in food rather than the whole complicated system in which different nutrients in whole foods react with each other in ways that create proven health benefits. Nutritionism has allowed processed foods, with their abilities to advertise their added omega-3’s and added calcium and added iron, to prevail over more traditional methods of cooking with whole foods. And indeed, you can even see this phenomenon in health food stores and the infamous “Whole Foods.”

These processed foods clearly haven’t made Americans any healthier over the last few decades, so Pollan proposes a few rules for eating. He suggests we follow a few rules, proven by tradition and history to be healthy, in order to remedy the failing American diet. The simple version of his rules is now well known: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The book isn’t very long, the last 40% being references, and I recommend it to those interested in food policy, food science, and eating healthfully. I actually found “An Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” to be a little more riveting, focusing on the different ways food (industrially grown and processed, organically grown, or independently hunted and gathered) can end up on our table. These books can go hand in hand if you’re looking for a broad understanding of the status of food in the United States.

In Defense of Food

~the little bunny

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