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IN DEFENSE OF FOOD AN EATER`, MANIFESTO c300. NOT TOO MUCH. NOSILY PLANTS MICHAEL POLLAN AUTHOR OF THE OMNIVORE’S sr s .k “% .”e DILEMMA BOORS & THE CULTURE More Than One Man Can Chew BY JAMES E. MCWILLIAMS In Defense of Food An Eater’s Manifesto By Michael Pollan Penguin Press 256 pages, $21.95 Big claims. Not too much support. Mostly unconvincing. That’s my nutshell response to Michael Pollan’s most recent answer to “the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.” Tough assessment, I know. Pollan is wildly popular. For millions of acolytes, he’s the Dr. Phil of food, counseling the foodie elite on such matters as the virtues of grass-fed beef and local produce. Pollan mesmerized his audience with first-rate nature writing in The Botany of Desire and proceeded to take the world by storm with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a smart book that’s become a Bible for environmentally conscious eaters. Through it all, he continues to publish lively, get-a-load-of-this-I’m-chasing-a-boar-through-the-woods! pieces for the New York Times Magazine, while maintaining a respectable foothold in academia as the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. All in all, a nice run. This time, Pollan has stumbled. It’s not that he’s written a bad book. That’s probably not possible. Instead, the problem with In Defense of Food begins with the fact that Pollan’s central claim reveals little that his well-informed audience doesn’t already know. Indeed, take away the book’s handsome packaging and Pollan’s popcorn prose, and what’s left is hardly a news flash: Processed food is less healthy than whole food. Not much to build a book on, much less a manifesto. Pollan no longer has a genuine dilemma to solve, but a burden to overcome. He has to overwhelm us with an inherently underwhelming argument: You’d be better off eating more fresh, leafy vegetables, less meat, and less processed food overall. Somehow, he must make this ordinary observation seem extraordinary. Two sleights of hand aid him in his attempt. Unfortunately, they seriously compromise the book’s integrity. First, Pollan grossly overstates his case. Extrapolating from the axiom that whole food is healthier than “fake” food, he reduces the developed world’s most common health problems to the singular cause of an industrialized diet. Rather than exploring the multifaceted relationship between contemporary food production and public health, or placing the issue in historical perspective, Pollan blames diabetes, heart disease, obesity, chronic hypertension, and cancer exclusively on the fact that Westerners gorge on factory-produced nutrients rather than real food. Pollan is right to highlight a surely important connection between 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 21, 2008