By now you’ve probably heard Michael Pollan‘s seven words of advice from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In the book he spends 150 pages talking about nutritionism, reductionist food science, and the negative health effects of the Western diet. In the last 50 pages he finally gets around to expanding just a little bit on those opening words.
If I may do my broken record routine, there are some books that are/would be much better as a long article. This is one—Pollan wrote it a year and a half ago in his New York Times Magazine article Unhappy Meals. Or you can get the gist from Pollan’s entertaining talk at Google. In making an excellent 12-page article 20 times longer, he retreads a lot of the same ground.
One prime example is this bit of repetition, within the space of 2 pages, when he’s writing about farmer’s markets and locally grown produce: “What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of their taste and nutritional quality.” And one paragraph later: “When you eat from a farmer’s market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious.” And in the very next paragraph: “Local produce is typically picked ripe and is fresher than supermarket produce, and for those reasons it should be tastier and more nutritious.”
It kills me.
Not to say he’s a bad writer. He isn’t. (I did enjoy The Botany of Desire.) This one comes up a bit thin and repetitive. Maybe he wrote it to turn a buck. Maybe just because he’s fascinated and loves to write about it. Maybe he did it to have good ideas spread even wider and with a longer lifespan (and these are good ideas). But it’s frustrating to read.
On the upside, I like his mention of parking lot science:
“…for a long time cholesterol was the only factor linked to heart disease that we had to the tools to measure. (This is sometimes called parking-lot science, after the legendary fellow who loses his keys in a parking lot and goes looking for them under the streetlight—not because that’s where he lost them but because that’s where it’s easiest to see.)”
And I really liked his suggestion that Wonder Bread “scarcely waits to be chewed before transforming itself into glucose”.