Author: Michael Pollan
Genre: Culture Studies/Nutrition
Paperback: 205 pages
In 2006, Michael Pollan published his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was concerned with the “ecological and ethical dimensions of our eating choices.” As a result, he was often asked, “Ok, but what should I eat?” In an attempt to answer that question, he gave us this #1 New York Times Bestseller with the second subheading “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” And while those words seem to answer the basic question of what to eat, he uses the next 200 pages to help readers (and eaters) deal with our confusion about the food we eat, understand what food is, and identify which foods we should choose most of the time.
Pollan begins by admitting that food choices and menus change not only generationally, but also in response to science and technology’s most recent “next best thing” or whichever marketing effort is most successful. So, Pollan’s goal with this book is to make our job of choosing our food somewhat easier in a constantly shifting world of real food and food-like substances. He deals with issues like why we shouldn’t concentrate on specific nutrients alone, how to deal with ever-increasing industrialization of our food, and what real food is and where to find it.
The text follows in logical arguments supported by Pollan’s own experience and research. He supports his arguments by citing specific formal and informal diet experiments in recent history that tend to show that when we indulge in “scientific reductionism” or “nutritionism,”we often miss the point. Eating for specific nutrients can limit whole categories of foods that have other nutrients that just aren’t in the spotlight or even recognized as valuable just yet.
Pollan’s writing style is incredibly easy to read considering he’s tackling a subject that includes some science, some politics (various food and farm/ranch lobbies and their effect on elections and food trends), specific nutrients and vitamins, how our food confusion came to be, and how it is confounded by constant shifts in our thinking (i.e., butter one year, margarine the next). He gives simple, doable suggestions such as shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and following some simple rules for eating to make our food consumption more pleasant and healthy (i.e., eat at a table, hopefully not alone, and several other suggestions).
The material is well sourced and the sources are cited, so further investigation (for those who are into that) would be easy. And while this book was published way back in 2009, which makes it ancient history in terms of food science, it does give us some general rules for eating that are useful no matter what the current food climate might be. In addition, Pollan has produced a couple of newer books since then. I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma a few years ago and kept it handy. But going back over it now, I found it so helpful and readable, I plan to read his newer works as well.