In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Healthcare&Medicine ・MLA ・1 Sources

Chronic diseases are the leading cause of disability and death globally. The primary chronic diseases in developed nations such as the United States include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases like stroke and heart attacks, cancer, arthritis, oral health problems, epilepsy, seizures, and obesity. The primary cause of these diseases in the West is Western diet. Their prevalence has prompted many authors to write articles and books about their causes and ways of preventing them. One of the authors who has done a great work enlightening people about the changes that should be made in the diet to minimize the risk of developing chronic diseases is Michael Pollan. In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he provides guidance on how we can reclaim our health as eaters. He states that reclaiming our health calls for an exercise, which might seem unnecessary at first blush: to defend food as well as the eating thereof. This defense may appear to be counterintuitive at a period when ‘over-nutrition’ is becoming a more severe threat to the health of the public than under-nutrition. His razor-sharp evaluation of the diet in the West (including its detractors and its architects) gives an inspiring indication of what it could be like if everyone could put their foods back together once again and reassess the meaning of eating well. The main goal of this paper is to explore how the argument made in this book connects to chronic diseases.
Eaters usually find themselves progressively in the firm grasp of nutritional industry complex that comprises of food marketers and scientists who are just very zealous to take advantage of every shift that takes place in the nutritional accord. With the government’s assistance, they have managed to create a nutritionism ideology that has successfully convinced the humanity of three malevolent myths. The first myth is that the most important thing is the nutrients and not food. The second one is that since scientists are the only ones who can see nutrients, expert assistance in choosing what to eat is necessary. The final one is that the main reason people eat is to enhance a thin conception of physical health. These scientists want everyone to view food as a concept of biology thus people should eat scientifically under their guidance. This ideology has led to poor eating habits and consumption of foods that have high sugar and fat levels thus increasing the risk of developing chronic diseases (Pollan 11).
Pollan puts forward that there is plenty of food around us and everyone enjoys to eat it; however most of what is being consumed currently are not food, but food-like substances that are edible. Furthermore, they are products of food science and not plants. Most have health claims, and that should give us a clue that they are not healthy. Therefore, he answers the question of what should be eaten to be excellently healthy by saying, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Indeed, that question has been considered incredibly confusing and complicated. He challenges the current nutrient-by-nutrient approach – something he calls nutritionism – and suggests an alternative of eating, which is informed by the ecology and traditions of unprocessed, well-grown, and real food. He affirms that it is impossible to separate our health from the health of food chains that we are part of and that nutritionism gives too thin an outlook of the role of food and eating, limiting its benefits exclusively to the chemical constituents of food (Pollan 27).
Abandoning Western diet and making wise choices of food, which enrich lives, can effectively help the population to escape the chronic diseases that it causes. The recommendation, “Eat food, but not too much,” means that certain foods such as meat should be taken as side dishes and not main meals. Moreover, we are better off consuming whole fresh foods instead of products of processed foods. Initially, the food was all that one could eat; however, the supermarkets and shops are currently filled with a broad range of unhealthy food-like substances that compete for space in our shopping baskets. These products of processed foods regularly come in packages intricately draped with health claims such as lowering cholesterol, reducing weight, and lowering glucose levels. Pollan asserts that one should not eat products, which make health claims if they are concerned about their health. He argues that food products with a health claim show that they are not food. He adds that these "healthy" replacements for real foods are horribly inconvenient since the public’s health began to deteriorate – chronic diseases became more common – when the majority of the population became obsessed with exiling carbs, vegetables, and even fruits from their daily meals (Pollan 141).
Over the past half-century, processed foods that have been designed to include nutrient have replaced real food. Scientists have maintained that they are the only ones who understand the components of these processed foods; therefore, marketers have taken advantage of that fact and endeavored to introduce new food products, which hawk fiber or omega- fatty acids. Pollan considers this the age of “nutritionism,” a period when experts have elevated nutrients to ideology leading to epidemic rates of chronic diseases and dangerous obsession with eating. Indeed, the way people eat in the West currently results in severe risks of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. Those who take traditional foods – plenty of “plants”- are less likely to face the risk of developing chronic diseases, while those who follow the ways of eating of those in the West are more prone to suffer from these diseases. Therefore, it is imperative for people to return to traditional foods as well as ways of eating, otherwise more people will develop chronic diseases (Pollan 11).
Those who are addicted to Western diet should also change the way they relate to food since they have traded in their food culture for nutritionism. Initially, parents used to be in control of what and how their children ate; however, currently, scientists are in charge of what to eat since they claim that the nutrition in foods is invisible to everyone except them. That makes the issue of what should be eaten so confusing. Pollan postulates that the “French paradox” (the French maintain their weight despite the fact that they gobble Foie gras and crème cheese) is not paradox whatsoever since the French’s relationship with food is different (Pollan 177). They take small portions, never come back for a while and spend significantly more time enjoying their food. Without a doubt, trading scientifically produced nutrients for pleasure giving foods and quantity for quality is the primary step in redefining how people think about food. He advises people to pay more and eat less, stop taking snacks and take meals, prepare their meals, and if possible, have gardens and grow vegetables and fruits. Each of these rules (required to maintain a healthy lifestyle) is well justified (Pollan 197). To participate in the complex and limitlessly interesting activities of producing our provisions is the most certain way of escaping the habit of consuming fast foods and the culture imbedded in it: that food is not communion but fuel; that food has to be easy and cheap. The kitchen culture, as exemplified in those lasting traditions referred to as cuisines, has more wisdom on health and diet than one is apt to experience in any journal or journalism on nutrition. Besides, the food people grow themselves contributes to their health long before they sit down to consume it because it is different from what Western diet contains; therefore, lowers the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Pollan states that nutritionism favors business but not human beings. Many people tend to think that fixation on nutrients would result in measurable public health improvement. However, the major nutritional science, including the policy recommendations according to that science, has to be sound for fixation on nutrients to lead to determinate public health improvement. That has hardly been the case. Medicalizing the issue of Western diet instead of overturning it is perfectly in line with nutritionism. Pollan makes recommendations on a more cultural or ecological approach to escape from nutritionism as well as from the chronic diseases caused by Western diet. Theoretically, nothing is easy – people should stop thinking and eating the way they do – but this is perhaps more challenging to do practically due to the existing food environment in the West and the loss of useful cultural instruments to offer guidance through it. Western diet has become so popular that people tend to forget that it is the primary cause of diseases like obesity, cardiovascular diseases, stoke, diabetes, and cancer.
It is high time people abandoned Western diet and started eating healthy food, which is what our great-great-grandmothers would recognize as food. The present-day markets are full of a broad variety of food-like substances, which our ancestors would not recognize as food. Even those food products that come with health claims should be avoided since they have been processed heavily and the health claims they bear are many a time dubious at best. Pollan makes know that margarine, one of the earliest industrial food products that claimed to be healthier than the traditional food products it replaced, was one of the primary causes of heart attack and other chronic diseases (Pollan 154). The current market is also flooded with food products that contain ingredients, which are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, and over five in number. Most of them also contain high levels of fructose corn syrup. Pollan states that these characteristics are not harmful; however, they are all steadfast markers of highly processed foods and encourages people to shift to markets that contain farm products. Such markets lack foods with high-fructose corn syrup or foods that were harvested long time ago. These markets have fresh whole foods that were harvested at the height of nutritional quality. Pollan adds that these are the kinds of food that our great-great-grandmothers would recognize as foods (Pollan 157).
For nearly a century, the food system of the West has devoted its policies and energies to lowering price and increasing quantity and paid less attention to quality improvement. No one can run away from the fact that better food – regarding nutritional quality or taste – costs more since it has been raised or grown with great care and less intensively. The majority of the population can afford healthy diets; however, they have been engulfed by Western diet. Taking food with low calories is healthy. Studies conducted by many researchers reveal that “calorie restriction” slows aging and provides the strongest link between diet and prevention of cancer. Most of Western diets contain high caloric foods, which cause weight gain as well as higher percentages of body fat percentages. Indeed, high-calorie consumption causes stress on the body, and extraordinary intake increases the risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer (Pollan 165).
Plants-rich diets have fewer calories since plant foods are less “energy dense” than other foods. Eating plants, mostly leaves, leads to good health. Even scientists agree that plants – omega-3, fiber, and antioxidants – are good for one’s health and certainly cannot hurt. That is the reason why carnivores are less healthy than vegetarians. Eating like an omnivore by adding new species and not just foods to a diet improves one's health condition. While nutritionism argues that a broad range of species in one’s diet increases the chances of covering all the nutritional bases, Pollan encourages biodiversity in the diet. Biodiversity in one’s diet implies less monoculture in the various fields. Currently, people are fed through monocultures, which require immense amounts of pesticides and chemicals to prevent them from collapsing. Diversity in the farmlands will lead to fewer chemicals and pesticides, healthier soils, crops that are very healthy, and consequently, healthier humanity. That means that people’s bodies do not border their health and that what is good for the soil is well for them. Most of the foods in Western diet lack biodiversity, thus increase the risks of suffering from various diseases.
In conclusion, Pollan asserts that nutritionism has replaced the traditional ways of eating in the West and changed what people eat. This ideology has made people have a firm conviction that food is a nutrient. Since nutrients are invisible to everyone except the scientists, people rely heavily on the experts to reveal the concealed reality of foods to them. The scientists have convinced many people that their dietary salvation is dependent on the invisible nutrients contained in food products and that they need plenty of expert assistance to determine what to eat. That has led to flooding of markets with scientifically made food-like substances with health claims. Marketers have been very busy convincing people of how nutritious their products are. Consequently, these food products have replaced quality with quantity and are very affordable. People have thus abandoned their traditional ways of eating and currently consume food products that are not good for their health since they are the primary causes of chronic diseases. In short, Western diet has increased the risks of developing chronic diseases. To solve the problem brought about by nutritionism, Pollan encourages people to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Works Cited

Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. New York: Penguin Books, 208.

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