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In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food
An Eater's Manifesto
by Michael Pollan

Penguin Press, 2008

This popular nonfiction tome makes the astounding assertion that Americans would be better off eating a diet comprised of items their great-grandparents would recognize as food -- fresh meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains --  and much less processed, pre-packaged food.

Michael Pollan, the author, has tapped into a deep-seated concern about the foods pushed by a profit-hungry industrial food chain full of highly processed products low in nutrients and high in fats and sugars, and an equally deep suspicion of nutrition scientists funded by food manufacturers promoting "healthy" alternatives like trans fats (margarine) that turn out to be more harmful than the foods they were intended to replace.

He attributes 
the growing popularity of organic foods, farmers' markets and CSAs to a desire for fresh, local sources of food.  He advocates for a "shorter food chain" wherein consumers are in closer contact with the sources of their foods and producers are face-to-face with the people who buy their products.

"Farmers can lose sight of the fact that they’ve growing food for actual eaters rather than for middlemen, and can easily forget that growing good food takes care and hard work. In a long food chain, the story and identity of the food (who grew it? where and how was it grown?) disappear into the undifferentiated stream of commodities, so that the only information communicated between consumers and producers is a price. In a short food chain, eaters can make their needs and desires known to the farmer, and farmers can impress on eaters the distinctions between ordinary and exceptional food, and the many reasons why exceptional food is worth what it costs."

Pollan labels the unholy alliance of cheap industrial food and unreliable nutrition science "nutritionism" and blames it for making more Americans overweight and susceptible to diabetes and heart disease.  
He provides disturbing examples of how powerful food industry lobbies have prevented the U.S. government from protecting consumers from the truth about the foods they buy and eat.

In 1960, Americans spent an average of 17.5 percent of their annual income on food and 5.2 percent on health care. Today, spending on food has dropped to 9.9 percent of income, while health-care spending has climbed to 16 percent. To Pollan, that's not a coincidence.

The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan's previous book, followed four major food groups -- meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains -- from their origins to the dinner table, exploring the ecology of our diet to answer the question of why we eat what we eat.

In Defense of Food
In Defense of Food

“Eat Food.
Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience and “value” or they can nourish a food chain organized around values - Values like quality and health. Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote — a vote for health in the largest sense — food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.

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