Michael Pollan has written a 200 page book about the virtues of food and the perils of industrialized food that could save your life, help you avoid the perils of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and help you improve your life and the lives of your family. Best known up to publishing this book for his illuminating book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Pollan in this book reduces what is known about nutritionism, food science (or lack thereof), and the effects of what we eat on our lives down to an understandable no-nonsense essay on how we have been duped and the price we have paid for following the clarion call of industrial food.
The first sentence of the book says it all: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." The problem is, many of us need a brief essay and perhaps even a reprimand about what "food" actually is. Here are a few gems from his book:
- p. 2 ". . . avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it's not really food, and food is what you want to eat."
- p. 4: Pollan identifies two culprits as, first, "a thirty-two-billion-dollar food marketing machine that thrives on change for its own sake," and, two, "the constantly shifting ground of nutrition science that, depending on your point of view, is steadily advancing the frontiers of our knowledge about diet and health or just changing its mind a lot because it is a flawed science that knows much less than it cares to admit."
- p. 7: "most of the nutritional advice we've received over the last half century (and in particular the advice to replace the fats in our diets with carbohydrates) has actually made us less healthy and considerably fatter."
- Pollan argues that food has gradually and continually disappeared from grocery shelves and that "nutrients began to push food aside in the popular imagination of what it means to eat." (p. 22).
- Challenges to the American diet are highly politically charged, with mammoth agribusiness firms and government agencies with vested interests challenging every word and idea in attempts to institute sound dietary guidelines.
- Looking at food one nutrient at a time, rather than whole foods and the interaction of whole foods, has led to flawed science and flawed nutritional guidelines.
- The shift from whole foods to "refined" foods marks one of the most critical shifts in our diets and health.
- Industrial food and poor food choices have led to new health industries for obesity and diabetes, among other illnesses attributable to eating and diet.
- Many of us gave up oleomargarine after we realized we had been duped into shifting from one kind of fat to another more dangerous kind (trans-fat), but how many of us have stopped drinking skim milk because we haven't known the additives to skim milk are even more dangerous than cholesterol in whole milk? (p. 153)
Much of what Pollan writes about comes from other food experts such as Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I reviewed on this blog some time ago), Marion Nestle's authoritative works, and Pollan's earlier and more length treatise (The Omnivore's Dilemma). Surely this book is worth the paltry five or six bucks that might give you a new lease on life. I'm going to go through my collection of books on diet and food I've collected over the past two or three decades and throw most of them away. How gullible we have been! But then, aren't we supposed to believe "science"? Pollan suggests we go back a couple of generations and eat the food our forebears ate. If we had followed great grandma's eating patterns, we might all be better off.