The first part of In Defense of Food is a criticism of nutritionism, the ideology that diet can be understood by reducing it to nutrients. In Defense of Food is the easiest introduction to critical theory of science I have ever read – I would definitely consider using it to teach philosophy of science. The problem with critical theory is that it’s good at criticism, but not good at recommending alternatives.
Since Pollan’s explicit goal in writing this book was to offer more recommendations than The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he runs into a problem. He cites scientists that are against the lipid hypothesis, the theory that fats are the main dietary cause of ill health. But the lipid hypothesis is a “theory” the same way that evolution and climate change are theories: there is scientific consensus that it is correct. You can’t argue from within a scientific frame that renegade scientists are right.
Pollan ends the book with a series of recommendations that are only vaguely supported by the arguments earlier in the book. These are not as heavy on the authenticity as I feared when I picked up the book and I think most of them sound pretty reasonable. Some recommendations that I particularly like:
- eat weeds and bitter greens because breeders haven’t replaced the nutrients with sweetness
- try not to eat alone
- pay more, eat less
- do all your eating at a dining table
- be the kind of person who is statistically likely to take multivitamins, then don’t bother taking them
- drink 1-2 servings of alcohol every day
- eat a big breakfast and a small dinner