Well, honestly its been a while since I’ve read a whole book and posted it. Okay, maybe its just been a while since I read a whole book. I don’t know what happened with the end of 2010 – but the reading stopped. Maybe it was football season, maybe its these two big wedding things happening next year, and then the start of snowboarding season – I don’t know – but reading has taken the back burner.
However, for Christmas I received Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. I had skimmed through his shorter version Food Rules in Barnes and Noble a few times, but this is actually a more in-depth description of how he concluded with those rules – which are more like guidelines. Like every other person on the face of the planet, a good New Year’s resolution was to eat better, and subsequently lose some weight for the aforementioned weddings happening this year. But I’m also not interested in crash diets – I know they never work but for a few weeks – and I’d really like to just be in better shape and healthier. Needless to say that gave me some motivation to actually read this book. Two blizzards helped too!
All in all, what I liked about Pollan’s way of thinking is that it just makes sense (to me at least). His mantra is “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” This is oversimplified and without thought those can just pass you by. I’ll skip the first mini sentence for now. But the “Not too much. Mostly plants.” is something we all know or have heard and struggle with. Sure I shouldn’t have that second helping. Of course I should have an orange instead of bacon with my eggs. But in reality, bacon always wins (which is why I try not to even buy it in the first place). So, those are pretty self-explanatory and just involve some more will power. It’s the first statement, “Eat Food” that can be easily overlooked, but was the most thought provoking.
We all think we eat food, its not like we are going around eating office supplies (although I have stirred my coffee with a pen before). But what is food, really? What I like is that Pollan brings in a historical, evolutionary, almost anthropological view of it. Pretty much think back to “the olden days” when people had to grow or hunt for their food. The rule to “Only eat things that your great-grandmother would recognize as food” makes that clear. For example, when you get back from vacation and realize that the “creamer” in the back of your fridge is still just fine – doesn’t that make you wonder what it is made of? Probably not any cream.
The book explains, both historically and politically how American culture has changed over the last hundred years, and how our food has changed with it. And how our cultural, “Western” diet is crap compared to most other countries. He also brings in the medical facts, citing countless nutrition studies about nutrients and cancer and heart disease. At times it becomes a little too scientific, but then you just skip to the next paragraph and assume the point is taken (or am I the only one who does that?).
To me the strongest take-away messages are his explanations of the millions of other people on this planet who have considerably fewer resources than we do (both in terms of personal income as well as medical treatment), yet have none of the health problems that American’s constantly face; cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes. We eat too much. Our meat is mass-produced, filled with hormones, and subsequently cheap – so we eat too much of it. And, we are all too busy, apparently, to do anything involving food prep. Ok, I admit, I don’t have kids to shuttle around, or a dog to walk, or aging parents (well they are aging, but they don’t need me yet!). But I do work full time, consult in my spare time, socialize, exercise, and recreate as often as possible (and there is that wedding thing) – but so far I haven’t found it too hard to avoid pre-packaged food. Apples, oranges, and bananas come in their own packages. Carrots come pre-chopped up. We’ll see how long this lasts, I mean it is NFL playoff month, and prime apres-ski-nacho season – but I don’t have an illusion of never having a nacho again – just not every week!
What has proved to be hardest is staying away from the brain-washing marketing that goes on in our culture. It seems so incredibly logical to buy something labeled “low fat”, sour cream, for instance – instead of its full fat counterpart. However, when you start reading the labels on low fat things – they generally have more sugar and carbs to make up for the lack of fat – plus added “who-knows-whats” to make it taste good. It seems easier to know that “whole wheat” frosted flakes are a scam. I’m not sure why – maybe because I was brain washed into low fat growing up, and whole wheat is still new. But the rule to try to avoid things that are marketing themselves at all makes that even easier (except for dairy products, which I’m still unsure of).
So overall, if you like to think and ponder the way things work, this is an interesting perspective on the way our food system works and how it has changed in the last century. It has the potential to make a lasting impact on someone who never considered what they were eating before; a way to change a mindset and set of beliefs.