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FOOD WEEK: IN DEFENSE OF FOOD

It’s food week!  And to kick it off, I’m reviewing the book In Defense of Food.

in-defense-of-food-cover

Can I just tell you how much I love this book?  It’s all the snippets of things I’ve learned from multiple sources all in one book.  It validates half of my craziness.  It’s educational and such an important read for our generation.  I absolutely recommend it to everyone.  (You can get it here on amazon).

The entire point of the book is this:

“Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

That’s it in short.  But there is so much more.  He begins with the “science of nutritionism” which is essentially that if foods are understood only in terms of the various quantities of nutrients they contain, then even processed foods may be considered to be ‘healthier’ for you than whole foods if they contain the appropriate quantities of some nutrients.  This is crazy talk, but it’s our reality.  We are bombarded by so much packaged food boasting of their nutrient content-they are “heart healthy, low-fat and lower cholesterol.”  Unfortunately many whole foods aren’t packaged, meaning they aren’t labeled with all of this mumbo-jumbo we’ve grown accustomed to.

“Now, all this might be tolerable if eating by the light of nutritionism made us, if not happier, then at least healthier.  That it has failed to do.  Thirty years of nutritional advice have left us fatter, sicker and more poorly nourished.  Which is why we find ourselves in the predicament that we do:  in need of a whole new way to think about eating.”

The saddest part of this whole ordeal is that we’ve been lied to.  For years.  For generations.  We were told over and over again by our government, by our doctors, by our school and by a giant pyramid that FAT IS BAD FOR YOU.  CHOLESTEROL IS BAD FOR YOU.  They are now realizing how very wrong that is.  Both fat and cholesterol are essential nutrients for life!  Without them we find ourselves overeating but never full, fatter and sicker than we’ve ever been. Restricting these foods was supposed to cure heart disease and instead we’ve only seen an increase in heart disease (but not necessarily in death from heart disease because we’re filling our faces with medicines to prevent that).

I like his breakdown that he continues to return to about nutrients.  He makes a very valid point here:

“There is nothing very machine-like about the human eater and to think of food simply as fuel is to completely misconstrue it.”

So very true!  Food is so much more than fuel.  It’s our culture.  It’s our time spent with friends and family.  It’s a way to express ourselves, express creativity and enjoy our life.  Breaking food down to simply fuel completely ruins the joy of a large portion of our life.  And in this lies so many of our problems as Americans.  We’ve started to look at food this way-we eat it on the run, we eat it in the car, we eat it SO DISTRACTED that we forget to enjoy it which typically sends us eating more because we’re still hungry.  Countries that focus on food ENJOY their food and typically eat less of their food because they are tasting and enjoying the food they are eating!  We have stopped doing that here.  And with cheap, lackluster food so available to us to snack on and drive-thru we do.  And we’re left hungry, unsatisfied and perpetuating a growing problem.

Modern agriculture isn’t doing us any favors either:

“In lengthening the food chain so that we could feed great cities from distant soils, we are breaking the ‘rules of nature’ at least twice:  by robbing nutrients from the soils the foods have been grown in and then squandering those nutrients by processing (and removing them) in the foods.”

It turns out nutrients spoil.  So the key to having a long shelf life is to simply remove them.  Many of the boxed and packaged food we eat has very little to offer us in terms of nutrients and good health, yet we continue to eat all of these harmful things!  Then news of declining nutrient levels in American produce may actually be great for business and our economy, however, because people now need to eat more produce to get the same nutritional benefit.  Awesome.

Americans have been able to achieve something never before seen in human history.  We now manage to be both overfed and undernourished, two characteristics seldom found in the same body in the long natural history of us.  Bruce Ames, a Berkeley Biochemist believes that our micro-nutrient deficiencies may be contributing to our obesity.  His hypothesis is that a body starved of critical nutrients will keep eating in the hope of obtaining them.  The absence of these nutrients for the diet may “counteract the normal feeling of satiety after sufficient calories are eaten” and that such an unrelenting hunger “may be a biological strategy for obtaining missing nutrients.”   Beyond our physical health studies are showing more and more evidence that our terrible diets are having a detrimental effect on our mental health as well.

“One of the problems with the products of food science is that they lie to your body.”

At this point, I was feeling very hopeless about our sad state.  We really are in trouble.  But the last third of the book is resolutions to the many problems we have.

So what are those resolutions?  You’ll have to read the book to really get the full plan but the summation of it is this.  We need to eat better.  We need to eat real food, food that rots, food that isn’t processed and food our great-grandmother would recognize.  We need to steer clear of food with health claims and spend our time and money shopping locally if we can.  We need to eat more plants, and ask questions about where all of our food comes from and what it was fed.  We need to look to other cultures and take note on how they eat.  Almost everyone is eating better than us in their traditional cultures.  And ultimately we just need to eat less.

I’m walking away from this book re-inspired and validated in so many of my food concerns.  I was especially happy to read that they hate all the lies that yogurt wants you to believe (A rant for another day.  Yogurt IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU unless it’s the real stuff.  The yoplait my Mom eats every morning in an effort to be healthy has has much ADDED SUGAR as a can of soda…grrrr).  When it comes down to it in everything I do, education is very important to me.  Learning even more about what’s best to eat, how important it is for me to enjoy it and the encouragement that there is hope made this book a new favorite of mine.  Check it out!

And if you’re read In Defense of Food, what were your thoughts?  Share them with me in the comments below!

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