Déjà Food

Michael Pollan’s January release of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” came as welcome news to a newly-created generation of foodies. It was Pollan who (arguably) created this generation of foodies, with his 2007 book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” While the latter explained the problems with the American diet, the former provided solutions. Laura Shapiro summed up the thesis Pollan’s latest book for Slate:

The science of nutrition, he argues, has little to do with food and has no business influencing our eating habits. Scientists don’t yet understand precisely what makes healthful foods healthful; they haven’t identified the full range of nutrients, and they have no idea whether packaged products “enriched” with factory-made vitamins and minerals are adequate substitutes for whole, natural foods.

If all of this seems a little familiar, I congratulate you on your sixty-one year subscription to VQR. Economist and engineer David Cushman Coyle reviewed a similar book in our Autumn 1947 issue:

“Tomorrow’s Food” by James Rorty and N. Philip Norman is a crusading book, written in anger and disgust against the conditions that have undermined the health of most of the American people. Whatever may be the world situation, there is enough to eat in this country, if we would eat it instead of wasting it by wrongheaded food habits.

Apparently the nearest thing to a general prescription, good for whatever ails you, is quite simple: never eat white flour or refined sugar. After that, don’t eat white rice, over-processed foods or “refined” food in general. The nearer you come to gnawing it raw, the healthier you will be.


The indignant part of the book is directed against the commercial bakers and the many processors of food who have found it profitable to take out the food values in order to get a product that would be easy to store and ship; and against government officials who have been pressured into consenting to “enrichment” of white bread when what the people clearly needed was a darker bread; and against scientists and medical authorities who have compromised at points where in the face of commercial advantage the scientific facts at least should have been kept clear.

Good luck finding a copy of “Tomorrow’s Food” (they’re as scarce as hen’s teeth), though “In Defense of Food” sounds like a reasonable substitute. If this back-to-our-roots eating concept doesn’t catch on, expect a third book in 2069. Watch this space for a review.

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Published: June 5, 2008