I love food. I enjoy creating meals from scratch and exploring the fantastic food culture here in Cleveland. And since I’ve been working out more and working with a personal trainer, I’ve been thinking more about how to fuel my body.
I’m not the only one; I’ve been hearing about the Keto Diet and the Paleo Diet from many people in my life, and of course, there are the constant articles from both reputable and questionable sources about how coffee will kill you faster and wine is actually a health food and [insert favorite food here] was once thought to cause blindness but now cures PMS or some crazy claim like that. Even worse, these are quickly followed by contradictory claims. There’s so much to sift through, and it’s made all the more complicated by advertising and our already developed tastes.
Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, explores our relationship with food, and how more knowledge is not necessarily a good thing. Food has traditionally been taught by society, passed down maternally in many cases. And not just what to eat, but also when, where, how, who with, and sometimes even why. But now, and for some decades, our food landscape has been changing.
Pollan explores the changes that science has brought to us, headlined by Nutritionism– the focus on parts of food such as protein or vitamin B rather than on the food as a whole. Nutritionism has not only convinced many that traditional foods are really bad for you because they have “too much” fat or sugar, but it has literally changed what counts as food– soy and corn substitutes taking the place of and often mimicking other grains and even non-plant foods.
It also lays out how current food culture has impacted the planet. It has changed the face of agriculture (pushing crops such as soybeans and corn instead of leafier more nutrient-heavy vegetables), the face of the oceans, and even how animals are raised (who knew that animals could be bred for more or less of a certain macro?). Our foods and the way that we create them would not be recognizable several generations ago.
Yet In Defense of Food provides many examples of places where the traditional diets, though counter to what scientists have advised is healthy, actually support a much healthier diet than what has turned into the Western Diet. The reasons why have not been isolated, and likely work in combination only– the what only works the same when surrounded by the when, where, how, why, and with whom.
All of the research in this book leads to this guiding philosophy: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. What does this mean? Make sure that the food is not a product of science and advertising; he suggests thinking about whether your great grandmother (now possibly going back to your great great grandmother) would recognize it as a food. Don’t eat until you enter a food coma; you likely don’t even need to eat until you feel full. And make vegetables and whole grains the main focus, with animal products being treated more like a side dish (if these are part of your diet). Following these guidelines may be the best way to reach an optimal relationship with food.
I’ve never been one to diet. It seems pointless, if you do not have an underlying medical issue, to deny yourself foods that you want and overcomplicate what foods you can eat, ultimately making yourself miserable in the name of temporarily (because many diets are not sustainable) losing a few pounds. If you have found one that you enjoy and that works for you, congratulations and keep it up! It’s just not for me. Instead, I’m going to work on the type of mindful eating laid out this book. At the very least, Michael Pollan has provided some food for thought with In Defense of Food, and if you are at all interested in eating, I think it’s a great book to pick up.