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Michael Pollan - In Defense of Food

I was watching C-Span. Michael Pollan was speaking before an audience in the Free Library of Philadelphia reading room and the discussion seemed to center around his book "In Defense of Food". I've never read any of his work, nor did I have any prior knowledge of him, but I have to admit that I found him to be very informative and quite entertaining. Anyone else agree?

Link ---> http://www.michaelpollan.com/indefens...

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  1. His "Omnivore's Dilemma" is must reading. I just started "In Defense of Food" today, and I can tell this will be good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ChinoWayne

      ITA about "Omnivore's". If you're interested in food and what we eat in the US, and why, it's a fantastic read.

      I'm looking forward to "In Defense of Food". ChinoWayne, let us know how you liked it when you're done.

      1. re: coney with everything

        It's another great Pollan read. He gets into the history and politics of how we got into the current sad state of affairs in the mega food industry (basically the center aisles of your basic grocery store) and ends with some recommendations both for personal health and as a consumer and for social health. The byline of the book is "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." which sums it up pretty well but the points he makes leading to that condensed summation are very revealing.

    2. I just bought this book and will report back after I'm done. :)

      1. This is a great distillation of Pollan's work. I predict that many more people will read it than read TOD. It's a lot shorter and very accessible. His writing style sucks you in from the gitgo, and there's a bit of shocking info on just about every page. Don't wait -- go out and get this book.

        1. I also just started 'In Defense of Food' and will be very interested in hearing others' opinions on it. As soon as I read the blurb on the back I knew I had to get it.

          1. Excellent book. It's a message every chowhound can get behind - real food over fake food. Butter over margarine. Jerkey over slim jims. Fresh fruit over Skittles. Vegetables over vitamin supplements.

            Pollan does a great job being informative without being boring, and preaching without being pushy or pedantic. He really tears apart the nutritional science profession, food processing industry, and USDA policymakers, backing up his arguments with history and sound journalism. And at 200 pages, it's a lot more approachable than Omnivore's Dilemma.

            1. I watched it too and really enjoyed the whole program. It was also interesting to see that he kept talking about Marion Nestle's "What to Eat" book as the go-to book for reference. He was also on last week's Fresh Air on Public Radio.

              11 Replies
              1. re: Nuray

                I've ordered In Defense of Food but haven't received it yet.

                I love Nestle's What to Eat, and am surprised that she doesn't get more love. Whenever I speak to somebody who has read Omnivore's Dilemma, I find that they are more confused and disturbed about their food choices (and my crowd tends to be people who are generally very well-informed about these things). While I don't agree with everything Nestle has to say, What to Eat is a great resource for those feeling the after-effects of Omnivore's Dilemma. Her approach to food is generally well thought-out and sensible.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  I love Nestle's What To Eat too. It took me a while to read it; and I find myself going back to it from time to time. Nestle's style is very straightforward, but she makes her point across so clearly. I haven't read the Omnivore's Dilemma yet; but I can't wait to read it now that it is available on paperback.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I interviewed Nestle for a trade magazine, and she is kinda prickly until she figures out your agenda, but warms up quickly. She's a very, very bright woman, and she knows her stuff. The fact of the matter is that we produce, net of imports and exports, 9,000 calories per person per day in this country. The food industry has a vested interest in trying to get you to eat that much, because otherwise it goes into far less profitable directions, such as animal feed.

                    I think there is a sea change going on in American eating habits, and the food industry is scrambling and trying to figure out how to capitalize on it without actually changing. Processed convenience is how they make money; fresh and healthy is nowhere near as profitable, since it puts small producers on equal footing or better.

                    1. re: Pete Oldtown

                      Cool that you got to interview her. I took a class with her and found her really refreshing. She's a very no-nonsense common-sense type of gal.

                  2. re: Nuray

                    Was the Fresh Aire episode an old repeat? I took a gander at the npr site to try and find it so I could listen, and only found old ones from years past. I know that Mark Bittman was interviewed on the 10th...is that maybe the interview you were thinking of?

                    Does anyone know if the Pollan CSPAN broadcast is online somewhere for viewing? YouTube or somesuchthing maybe?

                      1. re: chocolateninja

                        I don't think he's been on Fresh Air to talk about this new book, but he's been on the show several times in the past, so he probably will be eventually. However, he was recently on On the Media, Talk of the Nation, and Morning Edition:


                        Boy, do they love him at NPR!

                        1. re: chocolateninja

                          Pollan was recently interviewed on Leonard Lopate's show. New York Public Radio. Replay at: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/epis...

                          1. re: val ann c

                            Thanks for all the media linkups guys/gals! Looks like I have some choice listening to do while I finish up my "late xmas presents" knitting. (:

                            1. re: chocolateninja

                              Old, but also good:
                              (John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, talks about the "Past, Present, and Future of Food" with UC Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan)

                          2. re: chocolateninja

                            You are right Chocolateninja, it was not on Fresh Air. It was on NPR Food on 1/03/08. I just checked and it is available as Podcast.
                            Sorry for any confusion :)

                        2. How is it different than TOD? I love that book and enjoyed reading it but I am already on this train and don't need further convincing, have been on it awhile. Can someone explain why this has different/better information than TOD which would compel me to buy it?

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: rockandroller1

                            Whereas TOD is about the environmental and ethical repercussions of our food production systems, IDOF is about the health and nutritional repercussions.

                            IDOF is basically an indictment of the USDA, food processors, and nutritional scientists. (Pollan said in an interview that nutritional science today is where surgery was in 1650 - tons of potential, but currently doing more harm than good).

                            I've been on the local/organic train for years, but I find both books very helpful in explaining (and in some cases defending) the reasons behind my food choices. IDOF is particularly valuable for understanding the faulty reasoning behind nutritional science, diet fads, and the conventional wisdom sorrounding what foods are "good" for you. It has changed the way I view diet, and actually caused me to feel much better about my existing food choices (I wont be cutting out the charcuterie any time soon).

                            Additionally, some people can't be bothered with ethics and the environment - they care mostly about their own well being. As IDOF is about long-term health, it's a topic that everyone should care about.

                            Finally, at 200 pages IDOF is a short, fun read. It's nothink like tackling the treatise that is TOD.

                            Note: TOD = The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan's last book. IDOF = In Defense of Food

                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                              Thanks, Morton. This is a good way to distinguish them and makes me pretty sure that my gut is right - this isn't something I need to read. I am probably already living the dietary/educational life one might at the end of the book due to other research, readings, etc.

                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                That's kind of my feeling, too. I admire Pollan, but having heard him interviewed a couple of times I feel as though I've already read the book. Besides, his advice for healthy eating is a lot like a set of rules I came up with a few years ago when, for various reasons, a lot of people were asking me what i thought a healthy diet consisted of.

                                I do have the book on hold at the library, but there are a few people ahead of me, so it'll probably be a month or more before I get to read it.

                                1. re: jlafler

                                  You know, it seems one of the fundamental common-sense rules of healthy eating is to eat more vegetables. It seems so obvious. However I don't think everybody gets it.

                                  I'm hoping Pollan's clout will get people to eat more vegetables. I've seen some vegetarians proclaim how much healthier a vegetarian diet is while eating tons of dairy and sugar and neglecting vegetables (I don't include potato as a vegetable). I've also witnessed some organic/locavore people think their diets are healthy because they only eat free-range meat and organic grains. I believe a healthy diet includes a balance of all things. And for me, that includes some "unhealthy" treats for my emotional health.

                                  1. re: jlafler

                                    Honestly, you almost don't need to read IDOF if you just look at the subtitle: "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." That's pretty much the entire book distilled into seven words.

                                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                      Some people do have curiosity and a desire to understand the rationale behind a statement like "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants". Then they can make their own judgements as to whether or not the premise presented is one they can agree with or not.

                                      I'd much prefer an opportunity to learn about and judge something for myself, before swallowing another person's idea about something. Kind of like not wanting to cross a busy street just because someone told me it is OK, without my looking both ways first.

                                      1. re: ChinoWayne

                                        I don't think anyone here is saying that you shouldn't read the book. Pollan is usually worth reading. But, having read two of Pollan's other books, the NY Times article that was the springboard for this book, and heard at least three radio interviews in which he discusses this book at some length, I don't feel a burning need to read it.

                            2. It's a very good read and I'd recommend it to anyone. He was interviewed on Canadian radio last week.


                              1. Here's a link to an interview he gave the SF Chronicle:



                                1. I saw this book at Cosco last week, and picked it up. Turns out I had read a previous book of his, 'Second Nature' and liked it a lot. I haven't read TOD. I like IDOF even more.

                                  For those who say 'I'm already doing that, so it doesn't interest me,' I'd like to encourage them to read it anyway. The notion that I found most interesting is a paradigm shift of looking not at food as a carrier of specific nutrients, but as something that needs to be considered as an entity of its own. OK, whole foods is what he calls it, and it's amusing that he's apparently friends with the WH founder, and that he now lives in Berkeley.

                                  Beyond that, however, he shows that the food scientists in general want to isolate components of our food, in search of the 'good' part of the spinach, and the 'bad' part of roast beef, Pollan wants to talk us out of looking for these ingredients, to stop searching for a modification to the food we eat that will make it possible to eat what and how we like and still be healthy. Looking for the good and bad parts of our food gives rise to experts who tell us what to eat, yet often with little or no real understanding on their part. Calories, cholesterol, fat, carbs, each has had its time in the spotlight. Pollan argues that our science is not up to the task of understanding the total effect of food on our bodies. Witness the French Paradox. He also argues that our cultural practices of eating in a hurry and alone have a negative effect on us as well.

                                  Even if the book doesn't change your own behavior, it might help explain your preferences to a friend who 'doesn't get it.'

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Leucadian

                                    It's interesting that Costco even carried Pollan's book, considering how he wrote about food gets to your table in TOD & how it's (paraphrased badly by me here) totally over-industrialized & scary from a public health standpoint (the whole process, not just Costco though Costco probably had to pull bagged spinach off the shelves in the last e.coli scare like everyone else) & environmental standpoint (how many miles did that package of grapes travel to get to your local store in January?). It certainly doesn't put stores like Costco in a good light when it comes to buying food. I found it to be a fascinating read. I'm looking forward to reading IDOF.

                                    Lastly, I found that Pollan does an excellent job with looking at the overall picture & that the interviews & news stories covering his books tend to magnify certain points that he makes along the way while ignoring quite a few others. For example with TOD, some mainstream media really got into the whole high fructose corn syrup thing, but didn't necessarily talk about how much oil is used the in the process of producing & transporting food which he also touched upon. So, yeah, it's totally worthwhile to read the book. There's no way to get the subtleties of Pollan's arguments by reading the condensed version, though they are a good hook to get you to go buy or borrow his book in the first place. Just consider the irony when someone puts the book in their shopping cart along with that mega-sized bottle of multivitamins from Costco.

                                  2. The original article from which this book is based is available, for free, from the NY Times archives. It was in the Sunday magazine, I think Feb. 2007. It is a fabulous article.

                                    1. I just finished listening to "In Defense of Food" on CD. I had previously read "Botany of Desire". As a vegan I haven't been in a hurry to read "Omnivore's Dilemma". There were a few things he says in IDOF that I don't think are accurate, in particular the which one food when stranded on an island, but overall an excellent book.