(2008) by Michael Pollan

Book Review by Bryan Moe


The phrase “food-like-substances” seems to be repeated in my conversations with a high frequency rate these days. “Hey man, those cheetos are not really food, they are a food-like substance,” is not an uncommon statement out of my month. I suppose I owe, in part, this preachiness to Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.


This “manifesto” sets out to punctuate the debate over that which is called “food” and that which so clearly is not food. This is seen in application when one struggles to do something as simple as buy and eat healthy “food.” Pollan calls this the American Paradox: “a notably unhealthy population preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthy” (p.9). A sticking point and historical reference for Pollan in this cultural confusion over terminology is that of the emergence of margarine.


For the most part he is clear and direct in pointing out the culprits of the rhetorical devices used to create this paradox. Pollan all but names names, by pointing to political figureheads, lobbyists, nutritionists, journalists and the educated scientific elite who have maze for folks like you and me to buy and produce healthy food on our own. He closely documents the major historical turning point in industrial progress that fuels this maze, and he more than presents the case as to who benefits. The spoiler alert is that it is not the American people. The benefiting party is of course capitalistic corporate greed and the industrial food complex. His outing of the industrial food complex is nothing new for Pollan. His book The Omivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals does a pretty damn good job of it. But more importantly Pollan does his best to remedy the problem by offering a solution that takes the complexity of “food” and turns it into simplicity. He means that literally. Recommendations like “eat mostly plants, especially leaves” and “don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” are just the start for Pollan in breaking the West from a modern Western Diet. The Western Diet, by the way, is a diet that has caused, for the first time in history, a population and culture that is overfed but undernourished.


This book is compelling and provocative for those on both sides of the political spectrum, along with those truly worried about what they put into their bodies. If this review doesn’t compel you to read the book, just check out Michael Pollan on the Colbert Report and that should put you over the top.


Bryan W. Moe has a PhD in Food Communication from Louisiana State University

%d bloggers like this: