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In Defense of Food summary

Michael Pollan

An Eater’s Manifesto

4.5 (104 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan explores the relationship between nutrition science and the Western diet, suggesting that we should eat real food, enjoy it in moderation and avoid highly processed products.

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    In Defense of Food
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    In the twentieth century, we began to talk about consuming nutrients rather than eating food.

    Think back to the last time you wanted to start following a healthier diet. Did you think, “I’ll start eating carrots and cucumbers and stop eating beef and cheese”? Or did you think, “I need to cut out saturated fats and starchy carbohydrates, and eat lots more vitamins and minerals instead”?

    If you’re like most people, the details of your new diet were expressed in the language of nutrients, rather than specific foods.

    But when did this shift in focus happen? And why?

    In the second half of the twentieth century, the food industry and the US government shifted their focus from food to nutrients.

    Around 1950, a number of scientists believed that the consumption of fat and cholesterol (i.e., meat and dairy products) was responsible for the rise in heart disease. They called this the lipid hypothesis.

    Then, in 1968, the US government set up the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, which produced a report in 1977, “The Dietary Goals for the United States,” based largely on the lipid hypothesis.

    One goal of the committee was to advise people to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products in order to prevent heart problems. However, the head of the committee, senator George McGovern, happened to own many cattle ranches. Recommending that people should cut out red meat would have been damaging both to his interests and those of the powerful food lobbyists.  

    So, the wording of the committee’s recommendations was changed. Where they’d previously advised “don’t eat meat and dairy products,” they were instead coerced to advise people to “choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake.” Such a recommendation was a much smaller threat to the food industry.

    And with this, the discourse of diets began to change: we started to talk about healthy eating not in terms of what foods to eat but in terms of nutrients.

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    What is In Defense of Food about?

    In Defense of Food is a close examination of the rise of nutritionism in our culture, and a historical account of the industrialization of food. An expert in food ecology, author Michael Pollan takes a look at the way in which the food industry shifted our dietary focus from “food” to “nutrients,” and thus narrowed the objective of eating to one of maintaining physical health – a goal it did not accomplish.

    In Defense of Food Review

    In Defense of Food (2008) explores the modern food industry, its impact on our health, and how we can make better food choices. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers eye-opening insights into the deceptive ways food is marketed and encourages us to rethink our eating habits.
    • Presents compelling evidence that a return to whole, unprocessed foods is the key to improving our well-being.
    • Provides practical tips and guidelines for making healthier food choices without sacrificing enjoyment or convenience.

    Best quote from In Defense of Food

    Fact: To avoid upsetting the food industry, the National Academy of Sciences offered recommendations about diet and cancer purely in terms of nutrients.

    —Michael Pollan
    example alt text

    Who should read In Defense of Food?

    • Anyone concerned about his or her diet and health, and looking to improve them
    • Anyone interested in the actual impact of nutritionism on our physical health
    • Anyone seeking alternatives to the Western diet

    About the Author

    Michael Pollan is a journalist and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley. He is a well-known author in the field of food sociology, food science and evolution. Pollan’s previous books include The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

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    In Defense of Food FAQs 

    What is the main message of In Defense of Food?

    In Defense of Food advocates for a return to simple, whole foods for better health and well-being.

    How long does it take to read In Defense of Food?

    The reading time for In Defense of Food varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is In Defense of Food a good book? Is it worth reading?

    In Defense of Food is a thought-provoking book that challenges our views on nutrition and offers practical advice. It's definitely worth a read.

    Who is the author of In Defense of Food?

    The author of In Defense of Food is Michael Pollan.

    What to read after In Defense of Food?

    If you're wondering what to read next after In Defense of Food, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • What the Fork Are You Eating? by Stefanie Sacks
    • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
    • Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes
    • The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell
    • Cooked by Michael Pollan
    • What to Eat When by Michael Roizen
    • The Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig
    • Savor by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung
    • Beat Sugar Addiction Now! by Jacob Teitelbaum and Chrystle Fiedler
    • Clean by Alejandro Junger and Amely Greeven