In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

4.1 207
by Michael Pollan

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Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. These simple words go to the heart of this well-considered response to the questions posed in Michael Pollan's bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma. Humans used to know how to eat well, he argues. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated and distorted by food

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Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. These simple words go to the heart of this well-considered response to the questions posed in Michael Pollan's bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma. Humans used to know how to eat well, he argues. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated and distorted by food marketers, nutritionists, and journalists who all have something to gain. Pollan's manifesto shows us how to recover a more balanced and pleasurable approach to food.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
" Michael Pollan [is the] designated repository for the nation's food conscience."
-Frank Bruni, The New York Times

" A remarkable volume . . . engrossing . . . [Pollan] offers those prescriptions Americans so desperately crave."
-The Washington Post

"A tough, witty, cogent rebuttal to the proposition that food can be redced to its nutritional components without the loss of something essential... [a] lively, invaluable book." —Janet Maslin, The New York TImes

" In Defense of Food is written with Pollan's customary bite, ringing clarity and brilliance at connecting the dots."
-The Seattle Times

Jane Black
…in this slim, remarkable volume, Pollan builds a convincing case not only against that steak dinner but against the entire Western diet. Over the last half-century, Pollan argues, real food has started to disappear, replaced by processed foods designed to include nutrients. Those component parts, he says, are understood only by scientists and exploited by food marketers who thrive on introducing new products that hawk fiber, omega-3 fatty acids or whatever else happens to be in vogue…what makes Pollan's latest so engrossing is his tone: curious and patient as he explains the flaws in epidemiological studies that have buttressed nutritionism for 30 years, and entirely without condescension as he offers those prescriptions Americans so desperately crave. That's no easy feat in a book of this kind.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
…a tough, witty, cogent rebuttal to the proposition that food can be reduced to its nutritional components without the loss of something essential…In this lively, invaluable book—which grew out of an essay Mr. Pollan wrote for The New York Times Magazine, for which he is a contributing writer—he assails some of the most fundamental tenets of nutritionism: that food is simply the sum of its parts, that the effects of individual nutrients can be scientifically measured, that the primary purpose of eating is to maintain health, and that eating requires expert advice…Some of this reasoning turned up in Mr. Pollan's best-selling Omnivore's Dilemma. But In Defense of Food is a simpler, blunter and more pragmatic book, one that really lives up to the "manifesto" in its subtitle.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Pollan provides another shocking yet essential treatise on the industrialized "Western diet" and its detrimental effects on our bodies and culture. Here he lays siege to the food industry and scientists' attempts to reduce food and the cultural practices of eating into bite-size concepts known as nutrients, and contemplates the follies of doing so. As an increasing number of Americans are overfed and undernourished, Pollan makes a strong argument for serious reconsideration of our eating habits and casts a suspicious eye on the food industry and its more pernicious and misleading practices. Listeners will undoubtedly find themselves reconsidering their own eating habits. Scott Brick, who narrated Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, carries forward the same tone and consistency, thus creating a narrative continuity between the two books. Brick renders the text with an expert's skill, delivering well-timed pauses and accurate emphasis. He executes Pollan's asides and sarcasm with an uncanny ability that makes listening infinitely better than reading. So compelling is his tone, listeners may have trouble discerning whether Brick's conviction or talent drives his powerful performance. Simultaneous release with the Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 26). (Dec.)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
Amy Reiter
Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, the follow-up to his widely praised The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, should probably come with a warning: After reading this book, you may never shop, cook, or eat the same way again.

Or maybe that's a promise. Pollan contends, quite persuasively, that we who partake in a Western diet could stand to make a few serious changes in our approach to food. In fact, in 201 easily digestible pages, Pollan lays out the evidence that our very lives may depend on it. That goes double for you Coca-Cola drinkers, triple for you Twinkie lovers. And if you think you're safe just because you rarely sample the goods in the supermarket snack section, well, put down that "heart-healthy" name-brand loaf of bread and stop smirking: Pollan maintains that you too are likely a victim of what he's termed the Nutritional Industrial Complex.

Cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity -- they plague us in the West more than they do any other culture. Pollan believes these health troubles are a direct result of how we eat. "The chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy," Pollan writes. "These changes have given us the Western diet that we take for granted: lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of every thing -- except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains."

The antidote? "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," Pollan prescribes in the book's very first line: seemingly simple advice he then unpacks like a natural-fiber shopping bag chock-full of the freshest seasonal ingredients. Alas, that advice, like those ingredients, may come at a prohibitively steep price for some readers.

In Defense of Food covers ground that may feel familiar to readers who devoured 2006's Omnivore's Dilemma. Yet while that book approached our culture's relationship to food from an ecological point of view, here Pollan explores its impact on our health -- and aims answer a question from hungry readers: "What should I eat?"

Pollan divides this book into three sections: The first, "The Age of Nutritionism," examines the near disappearance of unprocessed food -- or as Pollan terms it, simply, "food" -- from our friendly neighborhood grocery store. Taking its place is a panoply of processed food products with labels colorfully conspiring to convince the consumer just how "healthy" they are: "Hyphens [have] sprouted like dandelions in the supermarket aisles: low-fat, no-cholesterol, high-fiber," Pollan observes.

He pins the rise of "nutritionism," which he defines as "the widely shared but unexamined assumption" that "foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts," on well-meaning, if clueless, scientists prone to a "reductionist" way of thinking, food marketers "eager to exploit every shift in the nutritional consensus," and a government that panders to the food industry:

Together...they have constructed an ideology of nutritionism that, among other things, has convinced us of three pernicious myths: that what matters most is not the food but the 'nutrient'; that because nutrients are invisible and incomprehensible to everyone but scientists, we need expert help in deciding what to eat; and that the purpose of eating is to promote a narrow concept of physical health.
Despite the fact that we have become a nation of what Pollan calls "orthorexics" -- people unhealthily obsessed with the concept of healthy food -- our ability to distinguish good food from bad has apparently slid away from us like a pat of "vitamin-enriched" margarine off a stack of pancakes.

The result? "Thirty years of nutritional advice have left us fatter, sicker, and more poorly nourished," Pollan contends. "Which is why we find ourselves in the predicament we do: in need of a whole new way to think about eating."

In the book's third section, "Getting Over Nutritionism," Pollan lays out a detailed plan for readers to "escape from the Western diet" and -- to a surprising degree -- put their money where their mouths are. It is here where the book may most frustrate the well-meaning reader who does not have a pile of spare cash to put toward organic-farm-fresh foods, scads of spare time and space to grow his own vegetables, or access to high-end grocery stores. It is also here that Pollan shows his elitist outlook.

To be fair, much of Pollan's advice is sound and presumably something all of us can do: "Shop the peripheries of the supermarket" -- the produce, dairy, meat, and fish sections -- "and stay out of the middle" -- soda-and-snackville; "Eat slowly," "Do all your eating at a table." And some of the advice -- "Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup," for instance -- is not as easy to follow as it sounds (high-fructose corn syrup is everywhere), yet still seems like a fine rule of thumb.

But "Eat well-grown food from healthy soils" (essentially, eat "organic"), "Pay more, eat less," "Cook and, if you can, plant a garden"? Not all of us can pay the premium to eat only organic fruits, vegetables and dairy products -- and meat from animals that are "pastured" or "100% grass-fed," as Pollan advises. Not all of us can afford to buy a home with land for a garden or to take the time to tend it. And certainly not all of us can afford to pay significantly more for our food. (Pollan makes a half-hearted effort to convince us that we'll make up the money in health-care costs, but he provides little evidence to support this theory.)

To some extent, Pollan acknowledges his elitist bent: "There's no escaping the fact that better food -- whether measured by taste of nutritional quality (which often correspond) -- costs more, usually because it has been grown with more care and less intensively," he writes. "Not everyone can afford to eat high-quality food in America, and that is shameful; however, those of us who can, should. Doing so benefits not only your health (by among other things, reducing your exposure to pesticides and pharmaceuticals), but also the health of the people who grow the food as well as the people who live downstream and downwind of the farms where it is grown."

In other instances, he comes across as fairly oblivious -- as when he suggests that planting a garden is an affordable solution for people who can't afford to buy organic. "The food you grow yourself is fresher than any you can buy, and it costs nothing but an hour or two of work each week plus the price of a few packets of seed." He makes no mention of the cost of the land on which to plant that affordable garden.

Then there's this sucker punch aimed at the unenlightened consumer, in the midst of a misty-eyed, damp-browed passage about the joys -- nay, the "subversive act" -- of cooking from scratch and growing your own food: "Unless, that is, you're the kind of cook who starts with a can of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, in which case all bets are off."


And yet ... and yet ... one can't help but feel that, if we regard Pollan's recommendations as an admirable, if somewhat unreachable, goal and make more conscious choices when we shop, cook and eat, we may be healthier -- and happier -- for it. But if you plan to follow this book as a recipe for living, you'll definitely want to add a pinch of salt. --Amy Reiter

Amy Reiter is an editor at Salon. She has also written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World, Wine Spectator, and Glamour, among other publications.

Library Journal
★ 09/01/2014
Journalist Pollan argues that we should only eat the sort of things that our great grandmothers would recognize.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"In his hugely influential treatise The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan traced a direct line between the industrialization of our food supply and the degradation of the environment. His new book takes up where the previous work left off. Examining the question of what to eat from the perspective of health, this powerfully argued, thoroughly researched and elegant manifesto cuts straight to the chase with a maxim that is deceptively simple: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." But as Pollan explains, "food" in a country that is driven by "a thirty-two billion-dollar marketing machine" is both a loaded term and, in its purest sense, a holy grail. The first section of his three-part essay refutes the authority of the diet bullies, pointing up the confluence of interests among manufacturers of processed foods, marketers and nutritional scientists-a cabal whose nutritional advice has given rise to "a notably unhealthy preoccupation with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthily." The second portion vivisects the Western diet, questioning, among other sacred cows, the idea that dietary fat leads to chronic illness. A writer of great subtlety, Pollan doesn't preach to the choir; in fact, rarely does he preach at all, preferring to lets the facts speak for themselves. (Jan.)" — Publishers Weekly, starred review

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In Defense of Food 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 205 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just read a number of reviews and want to write something a little different than what has been expressed. If this diet is new to you and you are afraid you won't like it, relax. A major change in diet takes time getting used to,but the foods Michael Pollan recommends we eat are delicious. At one time, I ate processed food, much of it with a high fat content, too much salt and so on. For years now, I have eaten what Pollan suggests. I love the food I eat and now find fatty, processed foods to be inedible. My tastes have changed. This winter I have been experimenting with new vegetables and ingredients. Yum! Load me up on the simple but delicious flavors of real food! Author ofthe award winning book,Harmonious Environment: Beautify, Detoxify and Energize Your Life, Your Home and Your Planet
Hometownulysses More than 1 year ago
This is a truly enlightening book. Rather than lay out concrete rules and regulations for a diet, Pollan gives you a whole new way to view food - as whole beings. Rather than reduce food to nutrients, Pollan argues that maybe it's better to eat the orange than take Vitamin C. If you want to improve the way you eat and change your understanding of food, then read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In a word, Healthy. Michael Pollack's interesting, informative, and eye-opening breakdown of Western food culture to help us figure out "Why aren't we healthy"? Food is good. Food is necessary. Food is... well, just what IS food anyway? Surprisingly, food is living things. Food is the output from living things. Pollack's book suggests however, that what we eat is getting further away from being actual 'food' the more it is processed, enriched, chemically treated, and boxed for long storage and later microwaving. A compelling read for anyone interested in understanding why things have become so bad for the health of Americans in general, and a source for common sense suggestions for taking back our dinner tables, and possibly shrinking our waistlines. If nothing else, in some measure we may eat - and even BE - healthy. Seven words make up the eating guidelines, and it's these seven words that most of us don't do anymore. EAT FOOD. NOT TOO MUCH. MOSTLY PLANTS. Highly Recommended.
curnet More than 1 year ago
Adding my positive review to so many others. A very accessible, entertaining, and easily read book. He makes a memorable case on how to eat "real food," and created a message that will stay with me for a long time. This is important stuff, and goes beyond the surface of nutrition labels and our empty way of eating.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
The advice Michael Pollan gives in his new book, In Defense of Food: an eater's manifesto, is sound. It's important to be knowledgeable and make informed decisions about what we put into our bodies.

Pollan talks about food as science in the first part of the book. Scientists are trying to find out what is healthy and what is not but in many cases they are going about it the wrong way. They use a reductionist approach by looking at just vitamin C and lycopene, for instance, instead of looking at the whole tomato.

In the second part of the book Pollan looks at the Western Diet and all the diseases that are linked to it. He talks about how Industry has taken over the supermarket and changed the way we Americans eat.

Lastly, Pollan gives great advice on how we should be eating: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. This may sound simple but he goes into detail about how most of what we see at the grocery store is not real food but food-like substances. Here is some of my favorite advice he gives: If your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it. Shop at the periphery of the grocery store and you'll stay away from most of the junk. If something contains more than 5 ingredients don't eat it.

In Defense of Food really gets one thinking about what our ancestors ate and how different it is from what most Americans eat today. I think we would all do well to follow Pollan's recommendations about what we eat and the way we eat it.
RusselL10 More than 1 year ago
This book was very imformative on how people should and shouldnt eat. what i liked about it was how it didnt really say what people need to you and how they have to eat. It gave options rather than a concrete wall! I thought that was very helpful to me and im sure to alot of other people. Overall it was a very good book to read. i liked the voice, which was serious at times but humoruos at other times. it made the book that much more interesting. Great Book
Reader_Since_Five More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book for everyone, whether you've done countless hours of research on the topic of food and how it affects us or whether you're just now becoming interested in the topic. Pollan has an engaging writing style that mixes serious research with topical musings of a more philosophic nature. I found the book to be enjoyable and informative - what more can ask for?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I find Michael Pollan a fascinating writer. I've either read or listened to two of his books ("The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food"), and found myself led down paths of thought that I wouldn't have found on my own. He writes (and thinks) so logically, yet humanely and with humor, that I find myself willingly following him to his unique and thought-provoking conclusions. I tell everyone I know about his amazing perspectives on food. I would recommend his books to anyone!
AvidReaderJA More than 1 year ago
A thoroughly enlightening look at the poor state of affairs concerning the "American Diet" and our food delivery system. Pollen seems to state the obvious, but clearly most Americans don't seem to know "the obvious" or maybe they don't care? They will when they need serious health care and it is not there! Pollen makes it pretty simple to assess what is good to eat and how to go about it. Should be read and distributed throughout schools in this country!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book to inspire and challenge. He's a wonderful voice out there who has inspired many to think differently about food. The drums are louder and the chorus is getting louder for change in our food delivery systems here in the States thanks to Mr. Pollan, Alice Waters, and their colleagues.
GrannyN More than 1 year ago
This book was an eye opener. It is well written, an easy read, yet very informative. I've bought copies for family and friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
just as informative as an eaters manifesto (which i also loved), but much shorter and to the point. great information!
mc-4-ws More than 1 year ago
Although I am still reading this book, I found tons of useful facts that I didn't even know, and some I did know as well. When I was reading I noticed that Pollan used humor, or at least some things I thought funny, and that made the book even better. It was an easy read, but also a little drug on for me. I know you can go on and on when writting research, but I found myself putting it down at boring parts. All in all the book was alright, and I did learn alot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am still reading this book and I am very impressed with it. The writing style is very easy to follow and engaging. I think anyone interested in sorting through all the conflicting advice about diet and food will find Pollan's discussion about the history of nutritionism a freeing and liberating read!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Readable and eye opening, this book will help many people who are trapped in endless diet woes. I've already bought 4 copies for my daughters and friends. Buy it NOW and get happy with your food!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is so good to read a book about nutrition that does not promote any new diet! The author's message is plain and simple: Go back to nature, eat wholesome foods, and don't bother with dieting. Don't overeat instead eat slowly, and enjoy your meals - such notion has already been promoted by Mireille Guiliano in her bestseller 'French Women Don't Get Fat'. Our curse is processed food. The dieting industry completely distorted our feeding process. Our desire to improve everything and to separate 'needed' ingredients from the 'unneeded' ones leads us to refining most of our food products. However, our artificially 'improved' food only seemingly has the same nutritious qualities as natural food. Artificial and natural foods have as little in common as silk roses with real ones. Processed food is easily obtainable, doesn't require much work to prepare, and, unfortunately, it is often also addictive. At the same time it is full of calories with very small nutritional content. Like 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', Pollan's new book is indeed eye-opening. It makes us think twice about what we are going to put into our mouths the next time we eat. For more reading about the danger of refined foods I strongly recommend Can We Live 150 - another book devoted to living in agreement with nature, and revealing the secrets of healthy diet.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was fantastic. It has changed the way that I view nutrition (he calls it 'nutritionism') and diet. My food choices will be much closer to being 'real' food not processed, industrial, and/or manufactured food. Wow. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I generally enjoyed the book, but a few points stuck with me ever since reading, and made the entire read worth it. The main idea is to check the ingredients of what you eat. Pollan points out the irony of 'whole-wheat white bread', and suggests consumers not buy anything your great-grandmother wouldnt recognize as food (he gives examples of new food products with their 40-some ingredients lists, and offers that if your great-grandmother doesn't know what the ingredients are, consider if they are really FOOD or not). Contrary to previous comments, Pollan doesn't have a 'vegetarian agenda', but he does promote eating 'mostly plants' which is entirely healthful, and any study on nutrition will back up that large quantities of fruits and vegetables are great for health.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I started to really examine the food I was eating (and feeding my family) last year, it was because of Pollan's 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' and the shock-on-every-page quality of what it revealed. 'In Defense of Food' is an excellent follow-up to that book. It's a quick read, but that's because its message is short and sweet. Instead of the convoluted messaging we get about nutrition from many sources (eat this! NO! eat that!), Pollan provides a very practical, common sense approach to what constitutes healthy eating. I didn't buy this book with the intention of treating it as a diet book, but I decided to try eating according to Pollan's guidelines. After just two weeks I have dropped 5 lbs and have a lot more focus and energy. (Though I have to admit that I haven't been able to stick to the rule about not eating at your desk since it's hard to get away for lunch at my job.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Pollan has put into words what has been slowly creeping into my consciousness. He is right, we can no longer trust the 'authorities' to tell us what to eat. Real food is superior to manufactured food. We should eat what is natural, food as it appears in nature without altering its form. Perhaps we can change the course of disease in our society by changing the one aspect that we can control and that is what we choose to eat.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As someone in the health field, I only wish I had learned this in medical school
Guest More than 1 year ago
Finally! First off, I am a personal fitness trainer and competitive drug free bodybuilder---so fitness, diet and exercise has been a major part of my life for over a decade. And, In Defense of Food, is a smart, well-written, down-to-earth discussion about making sound choices, not getting caught up in the hype, and choosing to do something healthy for your body. I am still reading it, and will re-read it to refresh myself. But, if you want some real information, and thus real healthy results, then read this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Defense of Food is a well-written and well-researched book that offers a lot of advice and help for those who love to cook. I think it is a terrific addition to any home library of cookbooks!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have this in paperback. One of THE most boring books ever!!!!!!!! Wish I never bought it .Kept talking about the way on back!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm writing this on behalf of my daughter. She loved this book. Originally she had checked one out of the library, but she was so fascinated with it that she wanted to own a copy. She said it's a great read and learned a lot.