In Defense of Food (Pollan)

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Michael Pollan, 2008
Penguin Group USA
256 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780143114963

The companion volume to the New York Times bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Michael Pollan's lastbook, The Omnivore's Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; now In Defense of Food shows us how to change it, one meal at a time. Pollan proposes a new 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio 
Birth—February 6, 1955
Where—Raised in Long Island, New York, USA
Awards—California Book Award; James Beard Award, 2000
   and 2006; Reuters-IUCN Global Award-Environmental 
Currently—lives in Berkeley, California

Few writers have done more to revitalize our national conversation about food and eating than Michael Pollan, an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose witty, offbeat nonfiction shines an illuminating spotlight on various aspects of agriculture, the food chain, and man's place in the natural world

Pollan's first book, Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (1991), was selected by the American Horticultural Society as one of the 75 best books ever written about gardening. But it was Botany of Desire, published a full decade later, that put him on the map. A fascinating look at the interconnected evolution of plants and people, Botany... was one of the surprise bestsellers of 2001. Five years later, Pollan produced The Omnivore's Dilemma, a delightful, compulsively readable "ecology of eating" that was named one the ten best books of the year by the New York Times and Washington Post. And in 2008, came In Defense of Food.

A professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, Pollan is a former executive editor for Harper's and a contributing writer for the New York Times, where he continues to examine the fascinating intersections between science and culture. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
A tough, witty, cogent rebuttal to the proposition that food can be reduced to its nutritional components without the loss of something essential…In this lively, invaluable book—which grew out of an essay Mr. Pollan wrote for the New York Times Magazine, for which he is a contributing writer—he assails some of the most fundamental tenets of nutritionism: that food is simply the sum of its parts, that the effects of individual nutrients can be scientifically measured, that the primary purpose of eating is to maintain health, and that eating requires expert advice.... Some of this reasoning turned up in Mr. Pollan's best-selling The Omnivore's Dilemma. But In Defense of Food is a simpler, blunter and more pragmatic book, one that really lives up to the "manifesto" in its subtitle.
Janet Maslin - New York Times

In this slim, remarkable volume, Pollan builds a convincing case not only against that steak dinner but against the entire Western diet. Over the last half-century, Pollan argues, real food has started to disappear, replaced by processed foods designed to include nutrients. Those component parts, he says, are understood only by scientists and exploited by food marketers who thrive on introducing new products that hawk fiber, omega-3 fatty acids or whatever else happens to be in vogue...what makes Pollan's latest so engrossing is his tone: curious and patient as he explains the flaws in epidemiological studies that have buttressed nutritionism for 30 years, and entirely without condescension as he offers those prescriptions Americans so desperately crave. That's no easy feat in a book of this kind.
Jane Black - Washington Post

Written with Pollan’s customary bite, ringing clarity and brilliance at connecting the dots.
Seattle Times

In his hugely influential treatise The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan traced a direct line between the industrialization of our food supply and the degradation of the environment. His new book takes up where the previous work left off. Examining the question of what to eat from the perspective of health, this powerfully argued, thoroughly researched and elegant manifesto cuts straight to the chase with a maxim that is deceptively simple: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." But as Pollan explains, "food" in a country that is driven by "a thirty-two billion-dollar marketing machine" is both a loaded term and, in its purest sense, a holy grail. The first section of his three-part essay refutes the authority of the diet bullies, pointing up the confluence of interests among manufacturers of processed foods, marketers and nutritional scientists-a cabal whose nutritional advice has given rise to "a notably unhealthy preoccupation with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthily." The second portion vivisects the Western diet, questioning, among other sacred cows, the idea that dietary fat leads to chronic illness. A writer of great subtlety, Pollan doesn't preach to the choir; in fact, rarely does he preach at all, preferring to lets the facts speak for themselves.
Publishers Weekly

Berkeley, California-based journalism professor and New York Times Magazine contributing writer Michael Pollan, whose previous work on the subject includes The Botany of Desire and the best-selling The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has placed himself at the forefront of food writing. He preaches a back-to-basics approach and a close questioning of the avalanche of information that has come out of our diet-obsessed society. Despite the accusations of a few critics as being a little alarmist, a little elitist, and a little obvious (not everyone has the access to or the resources to eat the food Pollan suggests), the book encourages a simple approach to eating that will strike a chord with readers weary of conflicting information and unrealistic weight-loss and wellness programs. So the message of the book and its well-written delivery can’t be faulted. The question is, do we need to hear it all again?
Bookmarks Magazine

Expanding on a theme from his popular The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2007), Pollan mounts an assault on a reigning theory of the relationship between food and health. For Pollan, “nutritionism” offers too narrow a view of the role of eating, confining its benefits solely to food’s chemical constituents.... Given the continuing fascination with Pollan’s earlier work, this smaller tome will surely generate heavy demand.

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for In Defense of Food

1. Okay, first things first: doesn't it just kill you to think that Krispy Kremes aren't a natural food? What other food is Pollan pointing his finger at? How painful would it be for you to give those foods up?

2. So...given Krispy Kremes and other goodies, what does Pollan mean when he says we eat foodlike substances? What does Pollan think we should be eating? How much of your own diet is made up of "foodlike substances" vs. "real food"?

3. Pollan claims that the Western diet has been replaced by nutrients. What does he mean by that? When he uses the term "nutritionalism," to what is he referring?

4. Pollan also says that after 30-years of nutritional advice from health experts, we're actually sicker than before. Do you agree? What kind of evidence does he use to support that claim?

5. Whom does Pollan blame for our dietary landscape? Again, what is the evidence? Does he make a good case?

6. If you've read Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, does this book make new claims—expand your knoweldge ? Do the two books complement one another? Or is this one simply a repetition of Omnivore?

7. What solutions does Pollan offer to help us make thoughtful choices, both in our own eating habits and in protecting the natural food supply?

8. Are you up for it?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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