Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In Defense of Food

I’m going to do something a little different in today’s post (actually you may notice that the next few posts are going to be a little different).

A couple of months ago I picked up Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. I had heard so many great things about the book and I really wanted to read it for myself.


I also loved his manifesto: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.

I thought this was a great way to summarize the way I wanted to be able to eat.

Instead of a review of the book (since it is all over the blog world and you can read reviews just about anywhere now) I thought I’d share a few of my favourite quotes from the book.

While I was reading the book I kept a highlighter with me so I would be able to highlight my favourite parts/quotes. I have never done this before while reading a book but there were just some things that he said that stuck out in my mind and I wanted to be able to find them again.

Before I start I better bring out up to date on a few concepts that he talked about in the book.

  • The Western Diet – he talks a lot about the western diet in the book. This being the diet of America (although I would include Canada in this as well). He compares the diet of *most* westerners to that of Italians, Greeks, the French, Asian cultures and other cultures around the world. He claims that the western diet is made up of mostly fast food/processed food – food that he claims our grandparents wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • Nutritionism – this is when people, scientist, nutritionist become obsessed with the nutrition of a particular food, or understanding the nutrition behind a particular food. He says people become so concerned about one nutrient or another (eg. protein, omega 3, fats, saturated fats, fibre, vitamins) that they forget to look at the bigger picture.

Here are just a few of my favourite quotes from the book – or at least the ones that got me thinking.

*What would happen if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?

I love this because from my perspective it wasn’t until recently (and sometimes I still forget) food was just something to put into your body when your hungry/bored/stressed/ etc. Since discovering the blog world I have found that food can be more then that and food can actually help you re-fuel and eating the right foods can actually give you more energy. I am learning to enjoy eating not just eating for the sake of eating.

*”Food Synergy" Here, then is support for the idea revolutionary by the standards of nutritionism: A whole food might be more then the sum of its nutrient parts.

Just because a pomegranate is a good source of antioxidants and we know pomegranates are good for us doesn’t mean that we should start adding antioxidants to everything we eat. Maybe its more then just the antioxidants but it’s the combination of antioxidants with the other nutrients in a pomegranate that make it good for us. It’s more then just one nutrient but that nutrient in combination with the other nutrients in that food that makes it healthy.

*Destroying complexity is a lot easier then creating it.

It is much easier to make something healthy become unhealthy then to make something unhealthy become healthy.

*A century ago, the typical Iowa farm raised more then a dozen different plan and animal species: cattle, chicken, corn, hogs, apples, hay, oats, potatoes, cherries, wheat, plums, grapes and pears. How it raises only two: corn and soybeans. This simplication of the agricultural landscape leads directly to the simplification of the diet, which is now to a remarkable extent dominated by – big surprise – corn and soybeans.

He goes on to discuss that although we don’t realize that we eat that much corn and soybeans we do. 75% of oils come from soybeans and and about half the sweeteners come from corn. Then he continues to say…

*Humans are omnivores, requiring somewhere between fifty to hundred different chemical compounds and elements in order to be healthy. It’s hard to believe we’re getting everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, rice and wheat.

I don’t really have much to say other then if we need fifty to hundred different compounds/elements to stay healthy our diets better be diverse.

*An American born is 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes in his lifetime.

How sad is that?

Here are just a few of his ‘rules’ or ideas on how to follow some of the rules:

  • Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting
  • Avoid food products that have a health claim – For a food product to make a health claim on it package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it’s more likely to be processed then a whole food (eg. Fruits and Veggies are healthy/good for us but they do not have packages or make health claims – they just sit in the produce section hoping that someone will pick them up)
  • To avoid the western diet depart from it’s rules – the supermarket, the convenience sore, the fast-food outlet
  • When you eat from the farmers’ market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is more nutritious.
  • Eating in season also tents to diversify your diet – because you can’t buy strawberries or broccoli or potatoes two months of the year, you’ll find yourself experimenting with other foods when they come into the market.
  • Shake the hand that feeds you – A wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides. Farmers can lose sight of the fact that they’re growing food for actual eaters rather then for middlemen and consumers can easily forget that growing food takes care and hard work – Food reclaims its story…when the person who grew it hands it to you.
  • 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 long seems like the smartest place to economize.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book:

*I no longer think it’s possible to separate our bodily healthy from the health of the environment from which we eat or the environment in which we eat or for that matter, from the health of our general outlook about food (and health). If my explorations of the food chain have taught me anything, it’s that it is a food chain, and all the links in it are in fact linked: the health of the soil to the health of the plants and animals we eat to the health of the food culture in which we eat them to the health of the eater, in the body as well as the mind.

Well I hope this gave you an idea about what the book was about. I would definitely recommend it to give people an idea of the different foods out there and just a different way of thinking about food.

Healthy Living Blogs

Before I go for the day I just wanted to share this awesome link for all the healthy living bloggers out there. This is an incredible resource of there for everyone so if you want to be included don’t forget to send Lindsey your info.

Healthy Living Blogs is a new resource for the health blogging community. Created by Lindsey of Sound Eats, HLB is a site designed to enhance the positive community of the healthy living blog world. Bloggers and readers can explore the site and find more blogs to love, bloggers in their area, and forums to deepen healthy discussion and support. If you're interested in having your site listed on HLB, simply send the following information to and check the site out for yourself!
  • Email subject line: MEMBERS
  • Your name (please share if you prefer to go by first name, first and last, or however you prefer to be known on the Internet)
  • Blog Name
  • Blog URL (please start with http://, not www.)
  • Your twitter handle, if applicable
  • Your location (if you prefer not to disclose this information for privacy's sake, that is completely understandable. We'll simply include your blog listing in the A-Z listing, not by location, too)
  • Any specific labels (i.e. vegan, gluten-free, weight loss, running, etc.)

Have you read In Defense of Food? If not are are interested in reading it? If you have what was your favourite quote/section/topic?

~ Katie :)