Book Eleven: In Defense of Food

If you happen to be a fan of Michael Pollan, you should probably cover your eyes, because I am about to bag on this book. Consider yourself warned.

I ordered In Defense of Food from the library because I like Pollan’s other books, and I saw no reason for that to change. People are already ga-ga over it, so I was pretty darn excited when I picked it up from the library.

My main problem with this book is that it read to me like a rehashing of Pollan’s previous work. I didn’t feel like there was any new information, and the final section felt very preachy, smarmy, and a bit holier than thou to me. Now, this is a larger problem I have with the foodie movement; it tends to be a bit snobby, and I think that this class exclusion is ultimately going to hurt the movement. Granted, I don’t think that Joe Citizen will be reading this book, so he doesn’t know he’s being condescended to in it, but he is, and that rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe I’m just getting tired over the whole debate about the American way of eating, and that’s the problem. The book is divided into three sections: one on nutritionism, one on the Western diet, and one on what to eat. The first section was vaguely interesting, because it talked about the rise of a major change in attitude about food, marked by viewing food as a sum of individual nutrients, rather than as a whole. It also delved briefly into why this way of thinking is counterproductive, and it dovetailed well into the section on the Western diet (which included some very nutritionist discussions of what Westerners eat). The thing is that none of this information is new to me or anyone else who has read Pollan. Now, I read a lot about diet and nutrition, so I might not be the best yardstick to use, but I feel like What to Eat is really just preaching to the choir. It allows rich white yuppies to stand around at dinner parties eating organic canapes and saying “gosh, did you read the latest Michael Pollan? Oh, you just have to, it’s so wonderful!”

The third section is, of course, the promised eater’s manifesto, which is that we should eat “food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Well duh. Thanks for that insightful comment, Mr. Pollan. The only thing that makes it vaguely distinctive is a discussion of what, exactly, food is; Pollan makes a distinction between heavily processed industrialized food and “food your great grandmother would have known.” I guess for people that view high fructose corn syrup as food, Pollan’s discussion might have been handy. But I think that most of his readers already know what “food” is.

But don’t take my word on it for this one; the media seems to be absolutely delighted with In Defense of Food, so maybe I’m just too jaded. I think I need to stop reading foodie books for awhile and delve into a topic that I’m not familiar with, like the history of polka.


In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. Published 2008, 244 pages. Nutrition.