Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Kitchen Reader - In Defense of Food

Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food" was the July selection for The Kitchen Reader and the first review that I'm posting as part of this group.

It's hard to ignore Michael Pollan's legendary status in the food world, but this was the first of his books that I've read. To be honest, I found the first two sections of the book to be heavy and hard to slog through (it's definitely not a light read!). It was also depressing to be reminded of how much we've been so manipulated by the food industry.

The last part of the book was at least more interesting since he offered some practical advice, instead of just lamenting over where we've gone wrong over the last 30 years. My favorite recommendation was the following: "don't eat anything incapable of rotting". A priceless piece of advice, in my opinion, and the first food item that came to mind was Easter Peeps (I don't know if they're available the rest of the year). We don't have Peeps in Canada so it was truly a foreign concept to me for my first Easter in Boston. In case the not-naturally-occurring yellow color doesn't scare you off, this group of scientific experiments should: Peep Research

I think Pollan offers up a lofty but probably unattainable goal for the majority of the population with his "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" mantra, simply because it is very hard to live that way. To follow his message means two things: 1) that people have access to fresh and natural foods, and 2) that people can afford said foods. I think it's well documented that in poor urban neighborhoods, there are often only corner stores that supply food basics (mostly the packaged kind) with fast food restaurants supplementing the remaining of the meals. It's also a well known reality that unhealthy food is the cheapest and perhaps the only option that some families can afford. It's all well and done for Pollan to preach the virtues of eating as much produce from farmer's markets, but it is an expensive lifestyle choice that is probably not economically viable for many of those who could benefit the most from an improved diet.

All that being said, I do think his message is important. I feel fortunate that I'm able to eat almost all organic, local as much as possible, free range/grass fed/wild options when it's available. We cook the majority of our meals and always from scratch, and even now that I'm conscious of my cholesterol level I eschew low-fat anything, preferring to indulge in the full-fat option but simply eat less of it or less often. His book is a good reminder that we always need to pay attention to what we eat, and that even following some of his suggestions can improve our health overall.


sarah said...

Hi Pharmafoodie, I found the third section the most useful, too. Pollan makes some really good points and the one that stuck out for me was to avoid food products that make health claims and go for the (unpackaged) plants instead. Recently another food blog I follow has been showing how cheap it can be to eat well--on $2 AUD a day ($1.25 USD). It's really eye-opening and does require some work, but is not impossible. I feel blessed to be able to afford to eat well, as you said. And now I feel motivated to spend wisely as well.

PharmaFoodie said...

Hello fellow Canadian! Thanks for sharing that blog, it's fascinating and I know it can be done, but notice how there's an emphasis on making everything from scratch. I bet most people who are on a tight budget wouldn't know how to do this, unfortunately - I forget who was lamenting the loss of cooking skills in society, but it's really true.

Jennifer said...

Great review and welcome to our group!

Peeps are available year round-my husband is a huge fan. I think they're disgusting!

Anonymous said...

I skipped this month, but I like the advice to not eat anything incapable of rotting. That's a good reminder to keep in the back of my mind! It really is hard to change our eating habits so drastically, but starting with an awareness helps.

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