Sunday, June 28, 2009

In Defense of Food

Part I: In Defense of Food

I finally finished Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food (I'm a little behind) and all I can say is "Wow, what a great read!" Even though I like to think I'm a pretty healthy shopper, by the 6th page of the Introduction, I was prepared to change my shopping habits; by the 7th page, I was taking notes. The writing style is easy to read and I even laughed out loud in a number of places.

The author's take home message is "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." I've been eating less meat nowadays anyway (more on this in a future post). He mentions how America is becoming a nation of people with Orthorexia - an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating - and I feared I was heading in that direction. I spend more time planning menus than any normal human being should.

The first section of the book is about the Age of Nutritionism and how "nutrients" have taken the place of "food". Also how "healthy" foods aren't always what they seem, and how there always seems to be one nutrient that's better (and one that's worse) than all the others (think low fat/low carb/trans fats/omega-3's/etc).

The second section is about the so-called "Western Diet" and how humans can thrive on many types of diets (all meat/few plants/no meat/all plants/no dairy/etc) except the Western Diet (lots of meat/highly processed foods).

The third section is broken into several personal rules (like "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food") to follow while you are shopping/eating.

It is basically a commonsense approach with a focus on whole foods. This book prompted me to rethink what I've been eating (and feeding my children). Not that my diet is awful, mind you. I looked over my meal plans for the next two weeks (see orthorexia, above) and only changed a few things. It also prompted me to visit my local farmer's market.

Part II. The Farmer's Market

I live in a town that has a very nice farmer's which I have never shopped in the 13 years I have lived here. Yesterday I went for the first time. It was a fantastic experience. Everyone was very nice (well, the gourd guy was a little weird) and I got some great produce and even a pound of grass fed bison burger (for cheaper than I can get at my grocery store!) I found myself wishing that I didn't have to stick to my meal plan so I could buy things that weren't on my list. (I did end up buying some unplanned asparagus because more than one vendor proclaimed "last of the season!")

There was only one tense moment as I returned to my car in a mostly empty parking ramp, and a strange guy walked past as I was loading my trunk. But I held tightly to my small bison-and-ice-pack-filled cooler, ready to swing it at his head if necessary. All in all, it was well worth the extra drive, and I plan to go again next week. If I hadn't read In Defense of Food, I don't believe that I would have gone to the farmer's market and discovered how nice it is.

I also think reading this book has given me the extra push to move away from neurotically counting calories. I can't tell you how liberating it felt today to sneak a few bites of fresh pineapple as I sliced a whole one up for the week. I have already been using Fitday a little less, but I am striving to not use it much at all. (Don't get me wrong, it's a great tool, but I was getting to be a slave to the numbers.) I'm still using Precision Nutrition, but not exactly following the anytime vs. post workout meals. (More to come about my current nutrition in a future post.)

I have also decided to (gasp!) NOT stick to my meal plan for this week. (I've got to eat that asparagus!) I will stick to the bones of it, but I'm allowing myself to be more flexible and if I want a few more almonds, I'm going to eat them, darn it all! ;) I'm just going to focus on eating real FOOD. Remember, "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants."

I think that this is a great book for anyone interested in what they eat. (That should be most of you!) :) It really opened my eyes to what real food is, and how some foods claiming to be healthy really aren't. Highly recommend it!


Kelly Olexa said...

That book IS awesome and is what got me started in the right direction, as far as a good attitude toward food and how to eat....


Liz said...

Abby, great review! I read "Unhappy Meals," the NYT article that was a precursor to "In Defense of Food," and although it took some time to sink in, it was the first thing that set me down the path towards healthy eating.

Picked up the book in November and loved it. It's absolutely one of my favorites. Glad you enjoyed it!

Mark said...

Nice post! It sounds like you are making the transition that I did about a year ago - moving away from obsessive compulsive (ala brad pilon) eating and moving towards just eating whole, real, unprocessed food. I have come to LOVE the farmer's market and get excited to go.

I haven't read "In Defense of Food" yet - it's on the list. I am still working my way thru Good Calories, Bad Calories and The Omnivore's Dilemma - both are excellent reads.

I still eat lots of meat though - meat grown eating what they are meant to eat. I won't touch CAFO stuff unless that is my only option.

Krissa said...

New book on my list. :)