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Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids, Michael Pollan - Author
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Book: Paperback | 8.26 x 5.23in | 352 pages | ISBN 9780803735002 | 15 Oct 2009 | Dial | 10 - AND UP years

The New York Times bestseller that’s changing America’s diet is now perfect for younger readers

“What’s for dinner?” seemed like a simple question—until journalist and supermarket detective Michael Pollan delved behind the scenes. From fast food and big organic to small farms and old-fashioned hunting and gathering, this young readers’ adaptation of Pollan’s famous food-chain exploration encourages kids to consider the personal and global health implications of their food choices.

In a smart, compelling format with updated facts, plenty of photos, graphs, and visuals, as well as a new afterword and backmatter, The Omnivore’s Dilemma serves up a bold message to the generation that needs it most: It’s time to take charge of our national eating habits—and it starts with you.
Food Rules - Michael Pollan, Author
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A pocket compendium of food wisdom-from the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food

Read the interview and watch the video with Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan, our nation's most trusted resource for food-related issues, offers this indispensible guide for anyone concerned about health and food. Simple, sensible, and easy to use, Food Rules is a set of memorable rules for eating wisely, many drawn from a variety of ethnic or cultural traditions. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat-buffet, this handy, pocket-size resource is the perfect guide for anyone who would like to become more mindful of the food we eat.

Introduction

Eating in our time has gotten complicated— needlessly so, in my opinion. I will get to the “needlessly” part in a moment, but consider first the complexity that now attends this most basic of creaturely activities. Most of us have come to rely on experts of one kind or another to tell us how to eat—doctors and diet books, media accounts of the latest findings in nutritional science, government advisories and food pyramids, the proliferating health claims on food packages. We may not always heed these experts’ advice, but their voices are in our heads every time we order from a menu or wheel down the aisle in the supermarket. Also in our heads today resides an astonishing amount of biochemistry. How odd is it that everybody now has at least a passing acquaintance with words like “antioxidant,” “saturated fat,” “omega-3 fatty acids,” “carbohydrates,” “polyphenols,” “folic acid,” “gluten,” and “probiotics”? It’s gotten to the point where we don’t see foods anymore but instead look right through them to the nutrients (good and bad) they contain, and of course to the calories—all these invisible qualities in our food that, properly understood, supposedly hold the secret to eating well.

But for all the scientific and pseudoscientific food baggage we’ve taken on in recent years, we still don’t know what we should be eating. Should we worry more about the fats or the carbohydrates? Then what about the “good” fats? Or the “bad” carbohydrates, like highfructose corn syrup? How much should we be worrying about gluten? What’s the deal with artificial sweeteners? Is it really true that this breakfast cereal will improve my son’s focus at school or that other cereal will protect me from a heart attack? And when did eating a bowl of breakfast cereal become a therapeutic procedure?

A few years ago, feeling as confused as everyone else, I set out to get to the bottom of a simple question: What should I eat? What do we really know about the links between our diet and our health? I’m not a nutrition expert or a scientist, just a curious journalist hoping to answer a straightforward question for myself and my family.

Most of the time when I embark on such an investigation, it quickly becomes clear that matters are much more complicated and ambiguous—several shades grayer—than I thought going in. Not this time. The deeper I delved into the confused and confusing thicket of nutritional science, sorting through the long-running fats versus carbs wars, the fiber skirmishes and the raging dietary supplement debates, the simpler the picture gradually became. I learned that in fact science knows a lot less about nutrition than you would expect—that in fact nutrition science is, to put it charitably, a very young science. It’s still trying to figure out exactly what happens in your body when you sip a soda, or what is going on deep in the soul of a carrot to make it so good for you, or why in the world you have so many neurons—brain cells!—in your stomach, of all places. It’s a fascinating subject, and someday the field may produce definitive answers to the nutritional questions that concern us, but—as nutritionists themselves will tell you—they’re not there yet. Not even close. Nutrition science, which after all only got started less than two hundred years ago, is today approximately where surgery was in the year 1650—very promising, and very interesting to watch, but are you ready to let them operate on you? I think I’ll wait awhile. But if I’ve learned volumes about all we don’t know about nutrition, I’ve also learned a small number of very important things we do know about food and health. This is what I meant when I said the picture got simpler the deeper I went.

There are basically two important things you need to know about the links between diet and health, two facts that are not in dispute. All the contending parties in the nutrition wars agree on them. And, even more important for our purposes, these facts are sturdy enough that we can build a sensible diet upon them.

Here they are:

Fact 1. Populations that eat a so-called Western diet— generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Virtually all of the obesity and type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of the cardiovascular disease, and more than a third of all cancers can be linked to this diet. Four of the top ten killers in America are chronic diseases linked to this diet. The arguments in nutritional science are not about this well-established link; rather, they are all about identifying the culprit nutrient in the Western diet that might be responsible for chronic diseases. Is it the saturated fat or the refined carbohydrates or the lack of fiber or the transfats or omega-6 fatty acids—or what? The point is that, as eaters (if not as scientists), we know all we need to know to act: This diet, for whatever reason, is the problem.

Fact 2. Populations eating a remarkably wide range of traditional diets generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases. These diets run the gamut from ones very high in fat (the Inuit in Greenland subsist largely on seal blubber) to ones high in carbohydrate (Central American Indians subsist largely on maize and beans) to ones very high in protein (Masai tribesmen in Africa subsist chiefly on cattle blood, meat, and milk), to cite three rather extreme examples. But much the same holds true for more mixed traditional diets. What this suggests is that there is no single ideal human diet but that the human omnivore is exquisitely adapted to a wide range of different foods and a variety of different diets. Except, that is, for one: the relatively new (in evolutionary terms) Western diet that most of us now are eating. What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization: to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick! (While it is true that we generally live longer than people used to, or than people in some traditional cultures do, most of our added years owe to gains in infant mortality and child health, not diet.)

There is actually a third, very hopeful fact that flows from these two: People who get off the Western diet see dramatic improvements in their health. We have good research to suggest that the effects of the Western diet can be rolled back, and relatively quickly.* In one analysis, a typical American population that departed even modestly from the Western diet (and lifestyle) could reduce its chances of getting coronary heart disease by 80 percent, its chances of type 2 diabetes by 90 percent, and its chances of colon cancer by 70 percent.*

* For a discussion of the research on the Western diet and its alternatives see my previous book, In Defense of Food (New York: Penguin Press, 2008). Much of the science behind the rules in this book can be found there.

Yet, oddly enough, these two (or three) sturdy facts are not the center of our nutritional research or, for that matter, our public health campaigns around diet. Instead, the focus is on identifying the evil nutrient in the Western diet so that food manufacturers might tweak their products, thereby leaving the diet undisturbed, or so that pharmaceutical makers might develop and sell us an antidote for it. Why? Well, there’s a lot of money in the Western diet. The more you process any food, the more profitable it becomes. The healthcare industry makes more money treating chronic diseases (which account for three quarters of the $2 trillion plus we spend each year on health care in this country) than preventing them. So we ignore the elephant in the room and focus instead on good and evil nutrients, the identities of which seem to change with every new study. But for the Nutritional Industrial Complex this uncertainty is not necessarily a problem, because confusion too is good business: The nutrition experts become indispensable; the food manufacturers can reengineer their products (and health claims) to reflect the latest findings, and those of us in the media who follow these issues have a constant stream of new food and health stories to report. Everyone wins. Except, that is, for us eaters.

* The diet specified in this analysis is characterized by a low intake of transfats; a high ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturated fats; a high whole-grain intake; two servings of fish a week; the recommended daily allowance of folic acid; and at least five grams of alcohol a day. The lifestyle changes include not smoking, maintaining a body mass index (BMI) below 25, and thirty minutes a day of exercise. As the author Walter Willett writes, “[T]he potential for disease prevention by modest dietary and lifestyle changes that are readily compatible with life in the 21st century is enormous.” “The Pursuit of Optimal Diets: A Progress Report,” Nutritional Genomics: Discovering the Path to Personalized Nutrition, eds. Jim Kaput and Raymond L. Rodriguez (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2006).

As a journalist I fully appreciate the value of widespread public confusion: We’re in the explanation business, and if the answers to the questions we explore got too simple, we’d be out of work. Indeed, I had a deeply unsettling moment when, after spending a couple of years researching nutrition for my last book, In Defense of Food, I realized that the answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated question of what we should eat wasn’t so complicated after all, and in fact could be boiled down to just seven words:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This was the bottom line, and it was satisfying to have found it, a piece of hard ground deep down at the bottom of the swamp of nutrition science: seven words of plain English, no biochemistry degree required. But it was also somewhat alarming, because my publisher was expecting a few thousand more words than that. Fortunately for both of us, I realized that the story of how so simple a question as what to eat had ever gotten so complicated was one worth telling, and that became the focus of that book.

The focus of this book is very different. It is much less about theory, history, and science than it is about our daily lives and practice. In this short, radically pared-down book, I unpack those seven words of advice into a comprehensive set of rules, or personal policies, designed to help you eat real food in moderation and, by doing so, substantially get off the Western diet. The rules are phrased in everyday language; I deliberately avoid the vocabulary of nutrition or biochemistry, though in most cases there is scientific research to back them up.

This book is not antiscience. To the contrary, in researching it and vetting these rules I have made good use of science and scientists. But I am skeptical of a lot of what passes for nutritional science, and I believe that there are other sources of wisdom in the world and other vocabularies in which to talk intelligently about food. Human beings ate well and kept themselves healthy for millennia before nutritional science came along to tell us how to do it; it is entirely possible to eat healthily without knowing what an antioxidant is. So whom did we rely on before the scientists (and, in turn, governments, public health organizations, and food marketers) began telling us how to eat? We relied of course on our mothers and grandmothers and more distant ancestors, which is another way of saying, on tradition and culture. We know there is a deep reservoir of food wisdom out there, or else humans would not have survived and prospered to the extent we have. This dietary wisdom is the distillation of an evolutionary process involving many people in many places figuring out what keeps people healthy (and what doesn’t), and passing that knowledge down in the form of food habits and combinations, manners and rules and taboos, and everyday and seasonal practices, as well as memorable sayings and adages. Are these traditions infallible? No. There are plenty of old wives’ tales about food that on inspection turn out to be little more than superstitions. But much of this food wisdom is worth preserving and reviving and heeding. That is exactly what this book aims to do.

Food Rules distills this body of wisdom into sixtyfour simple rules for eating healthily and happily. The rules are framed in terms of culture rather than science, though in many cases science has confirmed what culture has long known; not surprisingly, these two different vocabularies, or ways of knowing, often come to the same conclusion (as when scientists recently confirmed that the traditional practice of eating tomatoes with olive oil is good for you, because the lycopene in the tomatoes is soluble in oil, making it easier for your body to absorb). I have also avoided talking much about nutrients, not because they aren’t important, but because focusing relentlessly on nutrients obscures other, more important truths about food.

Foods are more than the sum of their nutrient parts, and those nutrients work together in ways that are still only dimly understood. It may be that the degree to which a food is processed gives us a more important key to its healthfulness: Not only can processing remove nutrients and add toxic chemicals, but it makes food more readily absorbable, which can be a problem for our insulin and fat metabolism. Also, the plastics in which processed foods are typically packaged can present a further risk to our health. This is why many of the rules in this book are designed to help you avoid heavily processed foods—which I prefer to call “edible foodlike substances.”
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In Defense of Food - Michael Pollan, Author
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Book: Paperback | 8.26 x 5.23in | 256 pages | ISBN 9780143114963 | 28 Apr 2009 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP

The companion volume to The New York Times bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma

Michael Pollan's lastbook , The Omnivore's Dilemma, launched a national conversation about the American way of eating; now In Defense of Food shows us how to change it, one meal at a time. Pollan proposes a new answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pollan's bracing and eloquent manifesto shows us how we can start making thoughtful food choices that will enrich our lives, enlarge our sense of what it means to be healthy, and bring pleasure back to eating.

" Michael Pollan [is the] designated repository for the nation's food conscience."
-Frank Bruni, The New York Times

" A remarkable volume . . . engrossing . . . [Pollan] offers those prescriptions Americans so desperately crave."
-Jane Black, The Washington Post

" In Defense of Food is written with Pollan's customary bite, ringing clarity and brilliance at connecting the dots."
-The Seattle Times

Why do we need to defend food?

We need to defend food by which I mean real food as opposed to processed food-like products—because it is under attack from nutrition scientists on one side, and the food industry on the other. Both encourage us to think in terms of nutrients, rather than foods, and both benefit from widespread confusion about something that should be quite simple: deciding what to eat.

Nutrition scientists are invested in the nutrient-by-nutrient approach because it's easier to study simple nutrients rather than complex whole food. The food industry has a problem with traditional foods because it's much more profitable design novel food products. So the manufacturers add complexity and convenience and do just about everything to our food except ever leave well enough alone. In fact, the scientists and the manufacturers are often allies. Both promote this idea that nutrients matter more than foods. Typically, the nutrition scientists highlight some amazingly important new nutrient, and then the manufacturers rush to reformulate food products to have more of that nutrient, so they can slap a health claim on it.

Your last book The Omnivore's Dilemma was published in 2006. When did you start writing this new book and what was the impetus behind it?

I started researching In Defense of Food immediately after publishing The Omnivore's Dilemma. As I traveled across the country talking about that book, I found that readers were, first, astounded to learn what they were eating, and second, eager to know how they might change the way they eat. I was surprised to discover how confused so many of us are about this most elemental of creaturely activities: figuring out a healthy diet. So I began researching the whole question of food and health to see if I could come up with a few simple rules of eating. To my surprise, I discovered that the scientists had less to teach us about eating healthfully than I expected—that the science of nutrition is still a very primitive science—and that there is a much more reliable source of wisdom on the subject. That wisdom is in the form of traditional foods, cuisines, and food cultures, which are the product of hundreds, if not thousands, of years of trial and error figuring out how to keep people healthy using whatever grows in a specific place. Culture has more to teach us about how to eat well than science. That was a big surprise to me.

The Omnivore's Dilemma clearly struck a nerve with readers. It not only was a national bestseller and named a best book of the year by 5 publications including the New York Times, but it also galvanized a new national conversation on food, as evidenced by regular news articles and food pieces that cite your book. Did the response surprise you?

I was flabbergasted by the response. It told me that the culture was read to have a new conversation about food, and that people were deeply troubled by the American way of eating. You never know when you start a book just where the culture will be when you finish it. But between the obesity epidemic, food safety issues (like e coli and mad cow disease), concern about animal welfare, and a growing recognition that the American way of eating is making us sick, people seem ready to take a good hard look, both at the system as a whole and, even more importantly, at their own approach to food. The Omnivore's Dilemma was very much about the food system; this book is about the individual eater—and we don't have to wait for the system to change to change the way we eat. As a matter of fact, by changing the way we eat, we'll not only be healthier, but our food dollars will bring about change in the larger system. This is one of those cases where the personal is political, and to do the right thing for yourself is to do the right thing for the land, the farmers, the animals. We don't get too many opportunities like that.

You call this book a manifesto and indeed it is much more opinionated and programmatic than your other books. Was it difficult for you to write this way?

It was actually surprising easy to write this way. Since The Omnivore's Dilemma, I've been engaged in a kind of conversation with my readers, both in person and on-line, and this book flowed naturally out of that give-and-take. It's a conversational book, both in tone and in conception. Researching The Omnivore's Dilemma gave me a thoroughgoing education in how the American food system works, so the question naturally arises: what are the practical implications of that knowledge for how one should eat? What I learned fundamentally changed the way I eat; this book is my attempt to share that with readers.

What is "Nutritionism" and why is it good for the food industry but bad for our health?

Nutritionism is the predominant ideology about food in America. It's not a science but a set of unexamined assumptions about food that shape our thinking about it without our even being aware. The first assumption is that a food is a collection of nutrients, and that it's the nutrients that matter. Since nutrients are invisible—or visible only to scientists—it follows that we need expert help in order to eat properly. So nutritionism underwrites the power of nutrition scientists and food scientists and government—the implication is, it's so complicated we can't eat without their help and advice. Another equally destructive assumption of nutritionism is that the whole point of eating is to advance our physical health. This is a very narrow and novel idea that, ironically, has done nothing to improve our health. To the contrary, our obsession with eating healthily—with nutritionism—has coincided with a decline in dietary health—with the explosion of obesity and diabetes over the past 25 years. Nutritionism is ruining our health, not to mention our meals.

One of my goals in In Defense of Food is to offer the perspective of the visitor from Mars, the outsider who can step back and recognize the absurdities of nutritionist thinking, and remind people it wasn't always this way, that eating is also about pleasure and community and engaging with nature, and that we can escape from the straitjacket of nutritionism. This is why I believe it's much to my advantage I have no professional training in nutrition. That training is an indoctrination in nutritionism.

How is the "Western Diet" making us sick?

We don't know, exactly. What we do know is this: the Western Diet is responsible for the fact that people who eat as we do—lots of refined carbohydrates, lots of processed foods and meat, lots of everything except fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—suffer much higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other diet-related diseases than people who eat any number of more traditional diets.

We don't know the exact mechanism by which our diet is making us sick—whether it's all the fat in the diet, the meat or the refined carbohydrates, or the sheer abundance of calories. Scientists disagree. But this uncertainty need not hang us up. We don't need to know why this is happened to know that it is happening and, very simply, that if we're concerned about our health we should and can stop eating this way. Because we also know that by escaping from the Western Diet we can reverse the health problems associated with it. This is stunningly hopeful news. Let the scientists argue about what in the Western diet is making us sick. Much more important is to simply stop eating that way.

You boil down your advice for better eating to 7 words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." It sounds simple but how do you apply that advice in today's culture of fast food and packaged food?

The challenge is to know what food is and isn't, because if you're eating food, you're probably going to be ok. In Defense Of Food offers several handy tests for distinguishing between food and food products. For example, if your great grandmother wouldn't recognize something as food, it probably isn't. If it contains more than five ingredients, or contains high fructose corn syrup, or has ingredients you can't pronounce, it probably isn't food.

Fortunately, there is still plenty of food in the supermarket if you know where to look for it. You find most of it on the perimeter of the store—the produce, meat, fish, and dairy sections. The processed and packaged food fills the middle aisles. So for starters, shop the periphery of the store and stay out of the middle. But, even better, get out of the supermarket entirely whenever you can. At the farmer's market you'll find nothing but real food—nothing processed, nothing hydrogenated, no high-fructose corn syrup. You can't go wrong.

There are similar rules for how to eat "mostly plants" and "not too much" —for example, eat at a table; you're much more likely to snack and binge when you eat alone in the car or in front of the TV.

You are critical of nutrition scientists. How do you think they've gone wrong?

The nutrition scientists and food marketers have gone wrong by misconstruing food and our relationship to it. By falling into the trap of nutritionism, and making sweeping health claims based on the skimpiest scientific evidence, they have changed the way we eat—for the worse. Ever since they sold us on low-fat food, we've been getting fatter. Why? Because it turns out fat was never quite the problem they thought it was in the first place, and then the promotion of low-fat foods as "good for you" led people to believe they could eat all they wanted as long as the package said "low-fat." This is why the alliance between nutritionists and food marketers is so insidious—the marketers take scraps of science and turn them into reasons we should eat more of their products.

You recommend shopping at farmers' markets or joining a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) where you get a share of a local farmer's produce on a regular basis. But is this practical for most people in this country? What if you don't live in an area that doesn't have these opportunities?

It's true that not all of us have the option of forsaking the supermarket for the farmer's market or CSA. But farmer's markets are the fasting growing segment of the food marketplace today, so if there isn't one in your area, there will be soon. But as I mentioned, there's still real food for sale in the supermarket—and increasingly, there's organic and local food there too. There's plenty of real food at Whole Foods, of course, and even Wal-Mart is now selling organic food. If it's not available locally, you can order excellent grass-fed meat over the internet. We have more choice than we've had in at least a generation.

As I was writing the book, it occurred to me that offering the same advice thirty or forty years ago would have been crazy. To eat the way I propose would have meant leaving civilization, going back to the land to grow your own food. In the 1960s there was virtually no way to get wholesome food that had been well grown in healthy soils without going to great lengths or growing it yourself. Back then, this book would have been the manifesto of a crackpot!

We're blessed to be living in the middle—or perhaps near the beginning—of a revolution in the way our food is produced and sold. Consumers have demonstrated to producers that they're willing to pay a premium for food that is grown and prepared with care. The good news is that finding real food is only going to get easier in America.

Real food is, it must be said, often more expensive and often takes more time to prepare than fake food. So eating well is not just a matter of shopping differently. It means living differently too. It means being willing to—gasp!—cook. There's no question that eating well means putting more into food—more money and more time. But the half-century-long experiment in outsourcing food preparation to corporations has failed us. Also, I think we've been sold a bill of goods when food marketers suggest we're too busy to do anything but buy their processed products—I don't buy this idea we don't have time to cook, or that cooking is so incredibly difficult it's best treated as a spectator sport on television. Or that we don't even have time to eat meals, so buy our car-friendly food products. This is such a crock! You can put an excellent meal on the table in twenty minutes. The fact is, people find the time—and the money—for the things they value. We have been devaluing food, with disastrous results for our health and our happiness. What we need to do is put food back where it once was: a little closer to the center of a well-lived life.

You're not a fan of the "low-fat" diet. What's wrong with it?

For starters, it was based on faulty science. To demonize fats is to demonize an essential—not to mention very tasty—nutrient. The habit of demonizing one nutrient and elevating another is nutritionism at its worst, and leads to food fads and food phobias—to neurotic eating. Now we're demonizing the carbohydrate and rehabilitating fat. These swings of the nutritional pendulum are destructive of both our health and happiness. Whatever nutrient we've decide is "good" we end up eating in excess. That's why the food industry loves "low fat" or "low carb" equally well—they become an excuse for eating and selling more food.

What's your favorite weekday meal to cook for your family and how long does it take you to make it?

My favorite weekday meal in the summer would be local salmon grilled on the barbecue with vegetables from the garden—grilled summer squash or broccoli or eggplant. With that we might have soba noodles or rice. And of course wine! We can get a dinner like that on the table in 20 minutes, tops.

In the winter, we make a lot of soups and stews. These take a little longer: maybe an hour of cutting and chopping at lunch time, and then a long, slow (unattended) simmer during the afternoon. This will give us at least one dinner plus a couple of lunches, so the minutes-per-meal is actually quite low.

CODES Notable Books Council Award
Books For A Better Life Award
James Beard Award
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The Metabolic Approach to Cancer : Integrating Deep Nutrition, the Ketogenic Diet, and Nontoxic Bio-Individualized Therapies

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