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There's food, and then there's food

(article, Kim Carlson)

Does food need defending? Michael Pollan thinks so. The author of many books, including the popular and influential The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan has just published In Defense of Food. Subtitled "An Eater's Manifesto," Pollan's new book promises to pick up where The Omnivore's Dilemma left off; if that book helped us think twice about what we're eating, the new one helps us eat better by giving concrete ideas for doing so.

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Such was the advice Pollan gave readers of the New York Times a year ago — and he repeats it in his new book. He has other advice as well, including the suggestion not to eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (Steer clear of Go-gurts, for example.) 

There's more advice: 

bq. 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.

As Pollan points out, none of these things by itself is particularly bad for you, but taken together, repeatedly, they add up to processed food — and processed food, he argues, just doesn't cut it in the long run. Not for our health, anyway. 

Here's another useful guideline:

bq. Avoid food products that make health claims.

Here's where being a savvy shopper pays off. There's a big difference, nutritionally speaking, between lumpy sweet potatoes that sit quietly in the produce section (the "silence of the yams," as Pollan has called it) and the slick cereal bars that scream "With Extra Fiber!" from their cardboard packages.

These are just a few of Pollan's many simple suggestions, but of course in the book he goes into great detail — about 200 pages' worth. Along the way, he refutes "nutritionism," laments the way we've forsaken food culture for food science, and lambasts snacking, especially eating in cars (which Americans do often).

Hear more about what Pollan has to say in an NPR interview that aired early this week; listen to the longer (uncut) version of the piece to get a greater sense of Pollan's simple advice. (The link is just beneath his photograph.)

Better yet, get your hands on a copy of the book. If you buy it at [%powellsBookLink code=9781594201455 "Powell's"], you'll join the legions of readers and eaters who have made In Defense of Food a top seller there this week.

One last thing: Consult Pollan's book-tour schedule to see if he's coming to your town. And for more information and others' impressions of the book, consult the Ethicurean's exhaustive list of reviews published in the last week or so.