Thursday, March 6, 2008

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Book: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Author: Michael Pollan
Like/Don't Like: Like. Can you believe it? Yeah, me neither.

The astute readers of this blog - all 6 of you - probably realize that I like fiction. And that's about it. I'm not really into non-fiction, mostly because I like all aspects of good fiction - plot, characterization, interesting locale. It's saying something that every non-fiction book that I've really enjoyed would have been great as fiction. But that list is short because I just don't get around to it much. Out of the 46 books that I have read in the last 2 years, 3 of them have been non-fiction (Yes, I keep track. You should try it. It is a dorky as it sounds but it's also fun to look back and reminisce.) I usually don't even bother with looking at non-fiction books when I'm at the bookstore because there's so much fiction to read that I don't have time for it. The classics alone will keep me in books for years.

How I came to 1.) notice, 2.) pick up, 3.) open, and 4.) read the first page of this book is a complete mystery to me because it's not just any non-fiction, it's informative non-fiction. It's non-fiction with science and stuff. It's not telling a story at all. In fact, it's talking about lipids and saturated fats. It has every appearance of a diet book. Ack! This book is exactly the type of book I make fun of. Exactly the type that I look at with disdain as I make my way to the new fiction section. Exactly the type that I would never even imagine reading.

But I couldn't put it down! I got sucked in on the very first paragraph. All it said was, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." And then it went on, in a very logical and sensible way to explain how the food we eat now isn't really food but food-like substances created to make it seem like food, and it comes with promises that it has no fat and no carbs and plenty of whatever nutrient is popular right now. It's amazing how much our brains have become wired into thinking the way nutritional science wants us to think. I was looking through a magazine the other day and noticed that half the ads in it were for food that wasn't really food, all claiming to be good for you. One of the ads was for Fritos. Maybe you've seen it. It's a bag of Fritos rapped in a corn husk with sunshine pouring down on it. So, suddenly corn chips are great for us.

It was really the common sense that got me. There was a lot of science and history of food in it but it was all used to show how eating locally grown whole food is better for you than, say, Twinkies. It makes sense, right? And yet, more people eat Twinkies than apples. And more people have cancer and heart disease and diabetes than ever before. I'm not saying that Twinkies causes cancer but you get the picture right? It doesn't make any medical claims that eating certain foods have made us less healthy but it does thoroughly and thoughtfully go over how the Western Diet has made us obsessed with health while being one of the most unhealthy nations on the planet.

It would be impossible for me to become a health fanatic. Mostly because I think that Hostess Chocolate Donettes are a little gift from above (See Hostess! I love you. Don't sue me.) But it made perfect sense to me and it was actually a very enjoyable read. It kept me entertained and informed. And it's short. Only 200 pages. Read it. And eat an apple.


samandholly said...

You may also like Marion Nestle's What to Eat. Yay nonfiction!

Laura said...

The Fritos ad totally makes sense. Fritos are made from corn. Corn is a veggie. Veggies are good for you. Summation: Fritos are good for you.

It's really very simple.