In Defense of Food book cover

In Defense of Food

by Michael Pollan

About the Author

Michael Pollan is the author of five books: Second Nature, A Place of My Own, The Botany of Desire, and the national bestsellers, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food. A longtime contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. His writing on food and agriculture has won numerous awards, including the Reuters/World Conservation Union Global Award in Environmental Journalism, the James Beard Award, and the Genesis Award from the American Humane Association.

Why I Like this Book

I resisted reading this for a long time because it seemed so obvious and simplistic. But I am very glad I finally read it.

If you read only one book about food and health, I suggest this one. And you can skip to Part III (the first part of the book explains how we arrived at such a state of confusion about food with dire consequences on national health.)

  • “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Now that is simple. And in seven words defined my food philosophy. It cuts out processed food (if it was made in a food laboratory, it doesn’t qualify as real food). “Mostly” plants allows for an omnivore diet, a conscious omnivore, being aware of where your food comes from, and establishes plant-based food as the foundation for healthy eating
  • His overview of the industrialization of food is readable and enlightening. He explains the fundamental changes to our food in the past century and how the ways of eating impacts our health
  • He explains how the US came to such an unhealthy relationship with food by defining nutritionism; foods are the sum of their nutrient parts—fats, carbs, antioxidants etc.—creating the idea that only scientists can explain the hidden reality of food. Food became foremost about promoting physical health, dividing nutrients into healthy and unhealthy ones. This created a history of macronutrients at war: protein against carbs, fats against carbs…leading to the changing public information about what is healthy and what is not. Result: mass confusion about what to eat.
  • In the last section of the book, Pollan cuts through marking noise in a friendly way with simple guidelines:
    • “Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.”
    • “You are what you eat eats,  too”—wrap your head around that one! Basically, the diet of the animals we eat impacts the nutritional quality and healthfulness of the food itself.
    • “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
    • “Avoid food products (that the first alarm bell, not food but food products) that contain ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable or more than five in number.”
    • “Avoid food products that make health claims.”
  • I greatly appreciate that Pollan not only addresses what to eat but how to eat. He points out that the US is probably the only place in the world where people eat an alarming number of meals in the car, or in front of a TV. It’s unusual rather than normal for families to sit down around a dinner table together on a regular basis.

Book Description

In the Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion—most of what we’re consuming today is no longer the product of nature but of food science. The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American Paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we see to become. With In Defense of Food, Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pollan’s bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.