The Omnivore's Solution - a review of 'In Defense of Food'

In Defense of Food cover

Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

Those were the simple directions at the end of The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's a straightforward and direct answer to the question "What should people eat?" Yet somehow, that wasn't clear enough for a lot of people. What is food? How much is too much? What kind of plants? Etcetera and so on. So, Michael Pollan wrote In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

Before discussing 'In Defense of Food' I suggest you read 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' first. It's not like watching a soap opera where every character has years of backstory and you need a guidebook to follow the storyline. Simply, 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' is an adventure through the sources of food in the modern western world. If by that, you think I mean a visit to Old MacDonald's farm, I say, 'Get thee to a library and check out a copy posthaste.' 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' asks 'Where does our food come from (not from Old MacDonald's farm) and what is it made of?' and 'In Defense of Food' answers 'This is how we got our current food system and this is what to do about it.'

When food isn't really food

If I had to distill 'In Defense of Food' to a single idea it's that much of what we eat today isn't really food. Michael Pollan expands on 'Eat Food' making a list of five rules to help better define what food really is (or should be). The first is the Great-Grandmother Rule:

"Don't eat anything that your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

Modern food processing has existed for well over one hundred years and it has re-made the western diet in the last 40 to 50 years. Depending on your age, even your mother or grandmother may not readily remember what unadulturated, real foods are compared to modern food products.

The second rule is for avoiding imitation foods:

"Avoid food products that are A) Unfamiliar, B) Unpronounceable, C) More than five in number, or that include D) High-Fructose Corn Syrup."

The point being that the further refined, processed, enhanced and enriched a food is the further it is removed from what we humans evolved to eat.

The next three additions to 'Eat Food' are:

"Avoid foods that make health claims."

or The potato chip doth protest too much, methinks.

"Shop the peripheries of the Supermarket and stay out of the middle."

The fruits, veggies and meat and dairy are along the edges of the store while the middle has the processed, shelf-stable foods.

"Get out of the Supermarket whenever possible."

Try a local Farmer's Market, CSA or your own garden for the freshest, most local food.

Michael Pollan also has a great deal of criticism for nutrition science and the food fads that it has promoted. He calls this 'Nutritionism', a belief that nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, etc.) are the most important aspect of food. Through an overview of nutrition science history, Pollan argues that our understanding of nutrition is still rapidly evolving and largely incomplete at best.

'In Defense of Food' is at once radical and highly traditional. Mr. Pollan advocates a return to foods more like what our ancestors ate - locally grown, fresh and seasonal. The radical part is this requires leaving behind modern convenience food products and much of the industry that has developed to provide them. I heartily recommend 'In Defense of Food', and a home-made meal of food fresh from the garden to eat before you crack open the book.

More Info:

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

Slow Food USA

SlowFood Rio Grande (New Mexico)