25 May 2008

an impassioned book review and reaction: 'in defense of food' by michael pollan

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto is the second Michael Pollan book I've read, after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma last year, and well, I think I'm in love, and I'm not the only one.

He's done it again! I love his writing style-- full of facts, but casually written, so there's not much that goes over your head. I feel like every other page (at least), I am wanting to take notes, highlight, or find a scrap of paper to mark the page-- I borrowed this copy from the library and read it almost exclusively on the subway, and found myself tearing up receipts to tag pages for future reference. This book is much easier to get through than Dilemma, at only 200 pages in a paperback sized, easy-read format.

With "Eat food. Not much. Mostly plants." as his mantra, Pollan discusses American's and 'nutritionism', the difficulties of finding real food in the supermarkets, the consequences of the Western diet, and how we can do something not only to shape our own lives and health, but also to change the view and use of real food in this country. I was excited when one of his sections began "Eat food: Food defined," because I've previously discussed (food vs. not food), we now have to decode the food products we find in the supermarkets in order to determine what's fit to eat. It's not so simple as it should be. (Or as it actually is when you got to the farmer's market). He argues that the biggest detriment to our health as Americans is the Western diet we ascribe to.

"...two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, that fully a quarter of us have metabolic syndrome, that fifty-four million have prediabetes, and that the incidence of type 2 diabetes has rise 5 percent annually since 1990, going from 4 percent to 7.7 percent of the adult population (that’s more than twenty million Americans)..."

Part way through the book, a few days ago, I read the above passage and a few additional pages focusing on obesity and diabetes on the train, on my way to my favorite natural foods store (Commodities, in the East Village), I stood outside in the rain and called my mom, 'impassioned and frustrated! passionately frustrated!' about how I was mad and annoyed and crazy over how so many people, including many in my extended family, let their health slip away so carelessly, when there's more than enough to be said for eating well (or better, at least) and for living actively. As I vented to her, breathlessly, I wanted to immediately do something, but what? In that moment, I wanted to shake my aunts, uncles, cousins, strangers by the shoulder, give them a slap or something to wake them up, call them out, make them accountable. I imagined myself storming into their houses, having them run around the block while I emptied out their kitchen of all of the 'not foods'. I imagined gathering them all and serving them a feast of whole and healthy foods-- brown rice, kale, aduki beans, oh my! I don't feel right knowing all I do, feeling like I do, and idly standing by, helping those who will hire me or else easily listen. I think there is a bigger difference to be made.

"In the end, they are only theories, scientific explanations for an empirical phenomenon that is not itself in doubt: people eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets. Scientists can argue all they want about the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon, but whichever it is, the solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: stop eating a Western diet."

And it's easier said than done, I'm sure, but I gotta try. Who's with me?

Pollan has also written a bevy of articles for the NYT, many of which are excerpted, or mini-versions of topics from his books.


Born to Snack said...

I put on about 80 pounds while working in a miserable job for the last four years. I turned to burger after burger for solace. It got so bad that I started displaying goutlike symptoms (achy joints, etc.)so I am on day three of vegan foods. I am making my own almond milk to eat with cereal, aduki bean vinaigrette with apple vinegar and bitter greens, bananas, etc. It's amazing how less hungry I am on day three. Guess that's what real food does.

Aja Tahari Marsh said...

congratulations on these big steps, sam! i'm proud of you. i know it's no easy feat, and i'm looking forward to hearing how the journey continues...

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