28 November 2010

Book Review Sunday

On the recommendation of Alicen at The Space Between My Ears (her Book Nook is a great resource) I recently read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.   It was a great book.  Not only was it a fun read since the tone was light and conversational, but it made so many interesting points.  Pollan did not say anything revolutionary about eating, but that was exactly the point.  There is nothing revolutionary about what, and how, the human body should be fed.   You should eat actual food and mostly planty stuff.  Got it.

Things I liked about the book:
  • Finally someone came out and said that all this piecemeal focus on fat, fiber, sugar, antioxidants or whatever is total BS.  I always kind of thought that the whole low-fat-low-cal-high-fiber-etc diet required eating far too much overly processed stuff to possibly be healthy, and I may have been on to something there. 
  • I always said margarine is poison.  Yup, that crap will kill you way faster than the fat in butter.  Ditto for anything with removed "bad stuff."  Trust me, it has probably been replaced with something much worse.
  • Dietary recommendations are too political to be of any value. I really loved how Pollan explained the relationship between what we see on grocery store shelves and the political game-playing.  
  • Pollan is on the Marion Nestle bandwagon and I have been a huge fan of hers since I read some of her work many years ago.
  • The "rules" for eating presented are easy and make sense.  
  • His analogy between modern nutrition and religious fanaticism was brilliant and really hammered the point home.
  • His proper portrayal of the limits of epidemiology.  There is a reason why I may never head back to that field...
Things I think the book lacked:
  • A realistic view of how, at least in our country, diet and socioeconomic status are overwhelmingly linked.   Pollan merely states that if you can eat this way, you should.  That doesn't really do anything to address the greater social issue of poor diet.  Granted this was a book about real nutrition and not social/political change so maybe I need to let that one go.
  • I think there were times when Pollan kind of glosses over the sharp contrast between real-life and the idealized methods of feeding people.   This is definitely a book aimed at the "affluent" citizens of our nation who have the time and other resources to even be worrying about all this.
  • Pollan seems awfully organic-gaga and well, I am not sure there is too much merit to that kind of blind faith.
The book did encourage me to do an experiment while grocery shopping.  I tried to follow the guidelines as much as possible in that I tried to stick with actual food that I would prepare from scratch and when I chose something that is technically processed (pasta, yogurt, crackers etc.) I tried to make sure I knew what was in it and to buy what had the least amount of crap added in (definitely no HFCS because I have been paranoid about that since ling before being anti-HFCS was cool).  This produced a lot of surprising results including:
  • My "abnormal" level of knowledge of chemistry meant it was way easier than I would have imagined to recognize what was man-made-gunk and what was just fancy names for fairly innocuous stuff.  Not bad for a girl who barely passed her five semesters of chemistry.
  • The organic choice was not always the best.  At least half the time the organic option contained way more "unnecessary" ingredients.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many of my store-brand generics that I buy were actually pretty good choices.  This also helped keep the shopping in line with my usual budget.  While I know that eating healthy is theoretically cheaper, for those of us who do not live in the perfect lab setting used for that math it can be tough on the wallet to shop this way. 
  • I now feel a lot more comfortable with the processed foods I buy.  Realistically I can't give up everything.  Snacks for the kids will include some Goldfish and I am not willing to completely give up the convenience of granola bars and the occasional box of mac-n-cheese. And the Diet Coke...I know it will be my demise, but I am willing to deal with that.  However, when buying said items I can choose the ones closest to real food.
So yeah, the book gave me, pardon the pun, a lot of food for thought while still making it all seem so very obvious and straight forward.  This one gets a big time recommendation.  I am now looking forward to reading some Pollan's other works.  My only question is how long will it take for this good information to get lost in the black hole of fad-diet?.  The book has already been dubbed part of the "real-food movement" so just when will this become just another sect of "nutritionism"?  Granted it would be a good trend for our nation, but if we have learned anything about our culture it is that we love a good crusade and this one may be ripe for the picking.


Alicen said...

If only I could write little book reviews as good, and on point, as yours! Of course I never said that was my strong point but I am glad that you enjoyed the book. I also liked that you picked out the "bad" too. He was a bit organics crazy but I didn't focus on that much because I rarely buy organics and don't intend to start since, I too, think they are hyped up a bit too much. Although I did especially like when he said the bit about organic junk food is still junk. So many people try and brush off things just because they are organic, organic or not it matters what is IN them.

Alexis said...

Exactly. A woman I knew in VA would not get off my hump about eating all organic, yet fed her kid bacon and eggs every single day for breakfast. At least it will be an organic heart attack... Yeah, lets face it, I am still feeding my kids chicken nuggets even is they are the morningstar farms vegetarian ones. I wont give them up, but at least we can be realistic about it.

Word verification is "red BS" pretty close, though this might be "green BS"...oh man, I just amuse myself so much!

Alicen said...


Your word verifications have just been too funny, and fitting, lately!