In Defense of Food

I just finished reading this book from Michael Pollan "In Defense of Food". This book is eye-opening and hits the nail on the head when it comes to our current food system and our eating culture. It is basically about the sickness of our food supply, caused by the food industry, and our confusion and insecurity of food choices, thanks to advertisers and nutrition experts with their food science labels. It is a call about taking back control of what goes on our tables and in our mouth. I have to admit it was not as easy to read as I expected it. The first pages were a lot about facts and analyses. But at the end, he gave some clear, strong and convincing arguments why we should take back control of our instincts and trust in knowing what is best for us to eat and follow our ancestors foodwise like. I got hooked on Michael Pollan after watching his food documentary on NETFLIX "Cooked". He has a witty and straight forward way to make his points, I feel like it is hard not to like him. In this book he gives so many good advice, reminders and convincing arguments, I just summarized and wrote down the best and striking ones here. There are of course ample more great statements about food and health in his book but I don't wanted to copy and write down his whole book. This is what hits me the most: 👇👇👇


'If you're concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it's not really food, and food is what you want to eat."

"If the soil is sick or in some way deficient, so will be the grasses that grow in that soil and the cattle that eat the grasses and the people who drink the milk from them. Our personal health cannot be divorced from the health of the entire food web."


- Eat Food. The first time I heard the advice to "just eat food" it was in speech by Joan Gussow, and it completely baffled me. Of course you should eat food - what else there is to eat? Unfortunately real food disappear from large areas of the supermarket and from much of the rest of the eating world. An unending stream of foodlike substitutes is taking over the shelves in supermarkets."

- Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Why? Because at this point your mother and possibly even your grand-mother is as confused as the rest of us; to be safe we need to go back at least a couple of generations. Imagine your grandmother and you walking down the aisle of a supermarket. She picks up a package of 'Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt tubes' and has no idea what this could possible be. Is it food or a toothpaste? You could tell her, it is just yogurt in a squirtable form, yet if she read the ingredients label she would have every reason to doubt that. Sure there is some yogurt in there, but there are also a dozen other things in she would probably fail to recognize as food, like high-fructose corn, modified corn starch, carrageenan, tri-calcium phosphate, and so forth. Is a product of Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt still a whole food? Or is it just a foodlike product?

- Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar b) unpronounceable or c) more than five in number. Why? All of these are markers of highly processed food. They have crossed over from foods to food products. As your grandmother could tell you, bread is traditionally made using out of a small number of ingredients: flour, yeast, water and a pinch of salt. But industrial bread has become a far more complicated product of modern food science.

- Avoid food products that make health claims. Why? For a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it's more likely to be a processed than a whole food.

- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. Why? Most supermarkets are laid out the same way: Processed food products dominate the center aisles of the store while the cases of fresh food - dairy, produce, meat and fish - line the walls.

- Get out of the supermarkets whenever possible. Why? You won't find any tri-calcium phosphate products, elaborately processed food products or packages with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients or dubious health claims, nothing microwavable and best of all no old food from far away at the farmers' market. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of their taste and nutritional quality - precisely the kind of food your grandmother and ancestors would recognize as food. It's hard to eat badly from farmers' markets or from your garden.

It's true you won't find everything you need there. But buying as much as you can from the farmers' market, or directly from the farm when that's an option, is a simply act for your health as well the health of the food chain.

When you eat from farmers' market, you automatically eat food in season. Local produce is typically picked ripe and when it is most nutritious, and it is fresher than supermarket produce. Eating in season, also tends to diversify your diet - because you can't buy strawberries or broccoli or potatoes twelve months of the year. You will find experimenting with other foods when they come into the market. If you are concerned about chemicals in your produce, ask the farmer how he deals with pests and fertility of the the soil.

- Pay more, eat less. Why? Paying more for better-quality food will reduce the amount of it we it. "Eat less' is the most unwelcome advice of all but calorie restriction has repeatedly been shown to slow aging and prolong lifespan.

- Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does. Why? Gas stations now make more money selling food (and cigarettes) than gasoline, but consider what kind of food this is. It's all highly processed nonperishable snack foods and super sweetened soft drinks. The same food quality you will find at convenient stores.

- Cook and, if you can, plant a garden. Why? If you involve yourself in food production to whatever extend you can, even if that only means planting a few herbs on a sunny windowsill or foraging some edible greens. To take part in the process of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be fast, cheap, easy and that food is a product of industry and not nature. The work of growing food contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it. Tending a garden reminds us of our ancient evolutionary bargain with these ingenious domestic species. Not that everything in the garden always works out well; it doesn't, but there is a value in the inevitable failures too. Whenever your produce is anything less than gorgeous and delicious, gardening cultivates in you a deep respect for the skill of the farmer who knows how consistently to get it right.

About Michael Pollan: He is an American author, journalist, activist, and lectures widely on food, agriculture, health and the environment. Pollan is also professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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