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Sunday, January 20, 2008

AUDIO REVIEW: IN DEFENSE OF FOOD; an eater's manifesto

IN DEFENSE OF FOOD; an eater's manifesto (Penguin Audio, 2008, unabridged,
6.5 hours on 5 CDs, ISBN 978-0-14-314274-4, $38.50 Canadian) is by Michael
Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma", which was the top-rated
non-fiction book of 2006. The picture of leaf lettuce on the cover pretty
well tells it all; it is accompanied by the text: "Eat food. Not too much.
Mostly plants." Some of this material was previously published last year in
the New York Times' magazine; that article was meant as a follow-up to his
2006 book. As he plainly makes clear, the real evil in food is the ideology
that controls everyday eating. Pollan calls it "nutritionism"; it promotes
nutrients above the food itself. In many ways, it is a lot like the movement
of the late 19th century with Kellogg and Graham and their flours and foods.
When you diet, you end up changing your balance of nutrients in your foods.
Thus, a low-fat diet becomes a high-carb diet. When "additives" and
"supplements" provide nutrients, you really don't know if they will work in
the same way as in "food". Another argument against nutritionism is that new
discoveries and new research methods have overturned the past: butter is
better than its trans-fat replacement, free-range food is better that
battery food, no fresh eggs were used in the 1960s cholesterol trials
(frozen and powdered eggs were used, and that skewed the results), fat is a
carrier in our bodies for natural nutrients and thus must be present in our
diet. He goes on to show that many studies were flawed. For example, a half
billion dollar eight year study of low-fat diets for women showed that the
target range of 20% of total calories from fat intake was never achieved.
The lowest it got was 29%. Because food corporations make their money on
both novelties and long shelf lives, then all processed foods should be
avoided. He produces what we can call the "The Michael Rules". Some don't
rules: don't eat food incapable of rotting; don't eat food with unfamiliar
ingredients and/or HFCS (high fructose corn syrup); don't eat food that make
health claims or are dietary supplements. Some do rules: do eat mostly
plants (especially leaves); do eat wild foods; do pay more to eat less; do
have a glass of wine with dinner. This book has been read by actor and
writer Scott Brick, who also narrated the 2006 "The Omnivore's Dilemma".

Audience and level of use: For retrovores (those who eat food that was
raised the way they used to be raised) -- anyone concerned about what they
eat, or looking for guidance on how to eat wisely.

Some interesting or unusual facts: "I'm hoping this book will give people
tools so they don't have to be dependent on people like me"

The downside to this book: while he has good material on fructose corn
syrup, he has nothing on the other devil, MSG, nor on preservatives in
general. While all the text is here in unabridged format, there is no
listing of the reading sources nor of the index and websites, which is a
shame. Quality/Price Rating: 94.

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