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In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – Book Review

Last Updated: March 3, 2020


Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

It’s a perfectly simple answer to the “Well then, what should we eat?” outcry that Michael Pollan received after his first book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I loved this book right from the cover — brilliant design — and thankfully, the book has some meat to it.

The first half of In Defense of Food is all about Big Food, nutritionism, and a “backstage look” at how Americans got so fat. The second half of the book starts answering the “What should I eat” question. It’s a back to basics approach, that to some of us may seem quite obvious, but there are still a lot of great tips to pick up along the way. Pollan has a really witty writing style as well. I was furiously scribbling down notes as I read this book, so here are some of his highlights on what to eat…

Tips on “Eat Food” – Food Defined:

  • Don’t eat anything your great grand-mother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar b) unpronounceable, c) more than 5 in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Avoid food products that make health claims.
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
  • Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. (gardening, CSAs, farmers markets etc)

Tips on “Mostly Plants” – What to Eat:

  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  • You are what you eat eats too.
  • If you have the space buy a freezer (for buying meat in bulk and farmers market produce).
  • Eat like an omnivore.
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.
  • Eat wild foods when you can.
  • Be the kind of person who takes supplements (more health conscious, better educated, and more affluent)
  • Eat more like the French. Or the Italians. Or the Japanese. Or the Indians. Or the Greeks. (“The whole of a dietary pattern is evidently greater than the sum of its parts!”)
  • Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism.
  • Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet. (Example: it’s not just the olive oil in Mediterranean diet, or just the tofu in the Japanese diet)
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner.

Tips on “Not too Much” – How to Eat:

  • Pay More, Eat Less. (Quality vs quantity)
  • Eat meals.
  • Do all of your eating at a table. (Interestingly, 18 – 20 % of eating in the US is done in cars now.)
  • Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
  • Try not to eat alone.
  • Consult your gut. (A survey of French vs. Americans, “How do you know when to stop eating? Americans: “When my plate is clean” and “When I run out.” French: “When I feel full.” Now there’s a concept!
  • Eat slowly.
  • Cook, and if you can, plant a garden.

Some stellar tips, some slightly elitist sounding tips (the “Be affluent” tip – yeah, I’ll get right on that) — but in all an excellent book! I enjoyed this book more than The Omnivore’s Dilemma simply because it has a more positive slant. It’s nice to read about the research behind how eating has changed in the last several centuries, but I love how Pollan has outlined real advice for people who are serious about getting healthier. The simplicity of his guidelines and his coverage of the “French paradox” — this country who eats fats and drinks wine, yet stays skinny — is similar to Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, another excellent read.

In Defense of Food is one of those books that after finishing you keep bringing up in conversations, even a few years past it’s publish date and yes, I’m even recommending it to my mother, who is a total granola. ;)

If you’re looking for the “Cliffs Notes” version, check out Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Originally published in August, 2009.

1 Comment

  • […] I’m fairly expert-ish at is being a vegetarian. After reading both Food Matters (Bittman) and In Defense of Food (Pollan) this summer, I was reminded again how utterly insane meat consumption — and in turn […]


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