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v8well Book Club: In Defense of Food
An Eater's Manifesto
I am so excited to introduce to you the v8well Book Club! Every month (and sometimes more than once) I will recommend a book for you to read. Topics will largely center around food and health, but I reserve the right to meander in search of an interesting book. I hope the bookworms amongst you enjoy this series of posts, and that some of my recommendations find a place on your bookshelf.
What should we eat?
The answer is in the first line of this book (actually, on the cover itself). Technically, you don't have to read beyond that, but I guarantee you will not stop.
For the first v8well Book Club, we’re going back to a classic: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.
Michael Pollan addresses the cloud of nutritional confusion that we all live under with striking clarity and ends with actionable and practical guidance.
His witty and sharp writing draws you in from the beginning. You nod your head as he laments the age of ‘nutritionism’ - where often an unhealthy combination of reductionist science, industry alliances and governmental intervention has replaced cultural traditions of food. Take the low-fat campaign - it has resulted in a plethora of what Pollan calls ‘food-like substances’ in the supermarket (Special K, I’m looking at you). It has largely done a disservice to the world, while eventually being disproved. More on that here.
He argues that people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods - and foods are so much more than the sum of their parts.
While stripping down foods to their nutrients, we forget that we still don’t have the full picture, and perhaps never will. I am guilty of this too. When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Take a humble carrot, for example. It’s made up of macronutrients - carbohydrates, proteins and fats. More than a century ago, we thought that was everything we thought we needed to know. Then we found out about vitamins and minerals and went Yes! Now we really understand. But today, we think the discovery of polyphenols and carotenoids have completed the picture.
“But who knows what else is really going on deep in the soul of a carrot?
The good news is that to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating foods, as compared with nutrients. You don’t need to fathom the carrot’s complexity in order to reap its benefits.
The age of industrialization has changed our diet greatly in ways that removes it far from our ancestors - moving from whole foods to refined, from quality to quantity and (this is really interesting) from leaves to seeds. This processed diet has brought with it a cornucopia of chronic disease that we think we all need to live with. But is it possible to go back to a way of eating that has more connection to ecology and culture?
Pollan leaves us with 3 simple rules of thumb (read the book to unpack them further!)
Eat Food - that your great-grandmother (yes, not even your grandmother!) would recognize.
Mostly Plants - and especially leaves. Remember you are what you eat and what your food eats.
Not Too Much - It’s okay to pay a little more for high-quality food and eat a little less. And also to just eat a little less, in general.
In Defense of Food was published back in 2008, so it may not be new to many of you. More than a decade after he wrote the book, food culture is coming full-circle as we start to celebrate traditional cuisines and eat more real food. We Ate Well is part of this movement too!
I leave you with this - if you will only read one book on food, make this the one. And even if you’ve read it previously, you will find yourself reaching for it over and over, because no one can make the journey to enlightenment enjoyable, quite as well as Pollan.
Have you read this book? Leave a comment to spark a discussion!
What part(s) struck a chord with you?
Do you agree with the book’s message?
Do you enjoy the author’s writing style? Would you want to read another book by them?