Posted on November 19, 2008 @ 09:07:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I am just finishing up Micheal Pollan's book "In Defense of Food", 2008, Penguin.
Pollan's last book, "The Omnivore's Dillemma", 2006, was a best seller. After reading this book I want to read this earlier book so I would call that a recommendation to read this one.
This is a book that critiques the foundations of "Nutrition Science" and its corresponding ideology of "Nutritionism" - the idea that we can achieve a healthy diet by making sure we get the proper amounts of nutrients indicated on the food labels. I must confess to being of this viewpoint before I read this book; now I am much more skeptical of this approach. An alterantive approach is summarized by the book's byline "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants".
By food, Pollan means "whole" foods, not foods produced from refined sugar, corn, rice or other methods that eliminate any nutritive goodness in our foods. The shift to eating foods made from refined flour, sugar, and soy allows food processors to better store their "food products" and make more money off the end products. Consumers like these "food products" but nutritionally they are bereft of much value. To compensate for the nutritive bankruptcy of their "food products", the food industry "supplements" their "food products" with vitamens, minerals, omega 3's, and other goodness; however, there is good evidence that the benefits of many of these supplements are only achieved in the context of delivery via a whole food and cannot simply be injected into a food and expected to deliver the anticipated health benefit.
Whole foods, such as we find around the perimeter of a grocery store (food products tend to reside along the inner isles), have a very complex chemistry that nutrition science is just beginning to understand. While we may think that a designed food product is complex because it has a list of 20 ingredients, it is comparatively simple when we examine list of ingredients we would find if we analyzed a leaf of thyme - a variety oils, acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fats working synergistically to produce their benefit to our health. Once we realize the complexity and co-evolution involved in the whole foods we eat, we might be inclined to seek them out more just as our evolutionary forebears did. Indeed, the diet of our evolutionary forebears is just the diet that we might hold up as our ideal for how to eat - we are optimally adapted to that diet. We are not yet adapted to eating "food products" (witness rates of obesity, diabetes, teeth problems, etc...) and Pollan argues that many of our western diseases are attributable to the refining and nutrutionism that has become ascendent in the western diet.
Pollan's book can be used by agricultural and nutrition entrepreneurs to anticipate what types of foods we might expect consumers will want more of in the future. It can be read as a modern analysis of the science and trends in nutrition science and offers green entrepreneurs data and insights to use in business plans. It is a very well crafted book by an authoritative voice in this area. Pollan has written a number of well-received books about food and his bibliography contains a useful up-to-date listing of resources useful for exploring many aspects of the food industry in more detail.