Friday, September 16, 2011

Review: In Defence of Food – Michael Pollan

The key for whether this book was going to be rated a success or failure lay in the authors willingness post all of the criticism of his readerships diet to provide genuine responsive actions that one can take. In this Pollan can be said to be a resounding success.

Cover image thanks to
Pollan's contention is that the West became throughout the the 20th century so focussed on the individual nutrients and other bits and pieces that made up food that it lost sight of the reality that food is more than the sum of all its parts. In the West's quest to understand every little part of every food not only have we (I am a Westerner myself) lost the vast majority of the physiological benefits of food, but also the cultural, sociological and spiritual benefits that for thousands of years humans have derived.

The author, Michael Pollan, is a vehement critic of the western diet. An American, he believes that it has solely been the influence of economics, and the selfish quest for more, that has led to the West now facing a problem of over-nourishment (obesity) than the malnourishment that has more often been humankind's problem for centuries.

For those of us not from the USA we need to read the criticism with a grain of salt. The problems still do exist in our societies, however they will be to differing degrees. The greatest learning I gained from the book was a view of just how far culturally we neglect some of the greatest purposes of eating. Meals and food for thousands of years have been cultural centrepieces through which we interacted with each each other. In a time when mental health is deteriorating it may be worthwhile for us to consider the changes made to the human condition from its natural state rather than seek an answer in medicine.

The responses Pollan gives to the problem of poor diet are well thought through, and very practical. They are difficult to read for us as society who have previously placed so much faith in what we thought was correct, but they are not without basis. Pollan does not shy away from the fact that change is hard, and there are sacrifices to be made, and this is commendable as even the thought that a set of recommendations might make our lives more difficult can dramatically affect book sales (the more preferred option often is 'Lose Weight in just 5 minutes a day!').

Give this book a read and ask yourself the hard questions about diet and society. Not only may you improve your health physically, but your life will probably be fuller also. Basketballs.

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