Thursday, February 07, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Even though I had read Michael Pollan's lead-up article to this book in the New Yorker and his other books, I found this one a page turner--fun to read and truly informative.

Already oft-quoted, the first words of the book summarize his extensive research and beliefs about food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." In other words, don't eat anything that has not traditionally been called food (recognizable by our grandmothers as food), which cuts out most processed concoctions in fast-food chains and much on grocery store shelves.

Eat plants because we need the complex interactions of the nutrients they contain. Pollan points out that there's no way to figure out which traces of what affect the whole nutritional value of what we need to eat. Singling out one vitamin, for example, and taking supplements of it is far, far inferior and may be quite deleterious to our health because we miss out on all the other interactions among minterals and vitamins in our food that we need to be healthy. Bottom-line: we just don't know enough yet so don't mess with the foods that have kept people healthy for centuries. I recognize this argument as one put forth by the scientists involved in the Washington Heights-Inwood-Columbia Aging project. After analyzing the diets of the participants, they concluded that those who had consumed a "Mediterranean Diet" (another way of saying "eat plants") had a dramatically lower risk of Alzheimer's. They hypothesized that one reason was because of the complex interactions of the many, many trace nutrients in plants

We've all been through the butter-margarine as engineered butter debate from the 50s on. And we finally now know that margarine is terrible for us, butter not so much (if we use it with a very light hand). There are many other examples of this kind of food engineering that moves beyond not making sense into really bad stuff.

I never really understood the arguments against genetically modified food until I read this book. I now realize that going for the most calories per acre cuts out the zillion varieties of fruits and vegetables that we have enjoyed--and all the complex mixture of nutients in that vast array. I now shop frequently at my local Farmers' Market and I have enjoyed the aesthetics and the taste of more variety. For example, have you seen those red and green cauliflowers sitting beside the omnipresent white ones? The green ones look like space helmets or part of an animation project. I'm discovering new tastes and new recipes and enjoying myself immensely in the process.

The "not too much" food is especially relevant to Americans who have a huge love of quantity. It's high time we copied the French on this one: quality trumps quantity every time.

I hope this book stays on the bestseller list forever. We all need to be aware of what we've done to our food supply and take steps to make meaningful and lasting changes.


Girl-Woman said...

I have walked past this book a couple of times now, but after your post, I will buy it this afternoon. Thanks for the review.

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