“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants…” advises author.

pollan3In Defence of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan is a welcome and long-overdue addition to the myriad of books available on food issues. Its greatest appeal will be to those people who are tired of trying to explain why they don’t drink pop, why they spend a lot of time in the grocery store reading labels on food products, and why they cook “from scratch” instead of using food that comes in boxes.

These people, like me, will like this book because it will let them know that they were right all along – – that the longer the list of ingredients on a food product the further it is away from being real food, and, the more likely it will make them or their children still hungry minutes after eating it, or, worse, tired, irritable, or sick.

A journalist who first examined food issues in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan in this, his latest book, puts the Western diet under a microscope, discovering that “food has been replaced by nutrients and common sense by confusion”. Delving deeper into the history of “nutritionism” and the industrialization of eating, Pollan attempts to explain why Western society, with supposedly the means and knowledge to eat well and thrive, somehow isn’t.

For me, the book makes up for those hurtful comments over the years about my “over mothering” when it comes to food. My quest to whenever possible serve my son actual “food” (although I had been doing so up until then) began in earnest after his first day of nursery school.

The snack provided on that first day by the friendly but at the time nutritionally unaware staff was “juice” concocted from a familiar sugary-flavoured powder packet and sugar cookies. When I went to pick up my son about an hour after snack time, I found him practically keeled over on one of the benches. I was asked whether my son had had breakfast (he had) or whether he had had enough sleep (he had). I soon realized that it was the sudden and unfamiliar high quantity ingestion of sugar, additives and who knows what else that was making my son lethargic and even anxious.Further research confirmed he was suffering from “food” reactive hypoglycemia brought on by “food” that wasn’t really food at all.Or, to put it more plainly, the processed products disguised as food had made him sick. 

I noticed similar symptoms after birthday parties he attended. A little cake, or one hot dog, or a sip or two of pop on their own might not have mattered, but, all three even in modest quantities were an ultimate drain on his energy and left him sick hours later until the sugar high followed by a sugar low could be balanced with small amounts of protein and low glycemic carbs, i.e. real food that could be absorbed more slowly and fully.

My son’s own childhood birthday parties in comparison featured milk or water as the beverage choices and home-made not processed food. His friends didn’t even mind, because they knew, to compensate, the toys in their take-home goody bags, which were uncharacteristically devoid of sugary candy, were the best to be found on the birthday party circuit. And, they always liked the food too.

Even if you, like me, already subscribe to Pollan’s theories about the importance of food over “food products”, In Defence of Food is well worth reading.Pollan points out in a series of well-thought out examples that in a world where our natural, whole food choices keep shrinking, processed options are increasing by the minute. He writes that phrases like “low fat”, “low cholesterol”, “low carb”, “whole grain”, “omega 3”, and “omega 6” have replaced the simpler characteristics of colour, grade and freshness as predictors of the quality of the food we eat.

Far from just a book about the sorry state of the Western diet and the effect on our health, In Defence of Food offers advice about what we as eaters can do about it – – simply take a cue from our grandmothers and in some cases our great grandmothers, to “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”


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