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Foodie Friday: In Defense Of Food

July 18, 2008

Hi everyone, and welcome to the Foodie Friday book club!
Today’s book is In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan.

And we’re talking about it ’cause it’s the most recent book i’ve read. Also because it’s really good and important. Really, i want to disseminate copies of it to everyone i know. But i am also aware that i am a huge nerd about this subject. So, a summary (rant) may do.

The gist? “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (this is what is written on the band around the lettuce on the cover) Remarkably, that actually sums it up almost perfectly, but the next 200 pages are still fantastic (and fantastically informative). The introduction is available on his website, and is probably more intelligible than me waxing on about the brilliance of this. What i’d say is the most important point:

For while it used to be that food was all you could eat, today there are thousands of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket.

Pollan talks about what he calls “nutritionism,” which is basically our (western) culture’s obsession with the idea that food is simply the sum of its parts, and that someday we will be able to subsist on sci-fi’s favorite food-in-pill-form thing. This has two terribly major problems with it. One is that, well, it’s not true. Just about every theory of nutrition that has been floated (and even broadly accepted and lauded) since nutritionism came on the scene has since been found false. Sometimes in a simply “we’re not really sure now” or “well, we exaggerated” way, but sometimes in an, “oh…so, when we said that eating margarine instead of butter would make you healthier, what we (now know we) actually meant was that it drastically increases your chances of having a heart attack” way. And then it’s, “Oops. Sorry. We were kind of wrong about that one thing being the key to all that is un/healthy. But don’t worry, now we’re certain that it’s this other thing over here.”

It does make an excellent sales pitch – necessitating new diet books and “health” food products.

The other problem is that, well, it won’t happen in my lifetime, but let’s pretend that someday science can feed us (healthily) without bothering with food. What the hell would the point of that be? To sap all the fun out of life? (I can only assume that after they’ve figured that out, they’ll work on getting rid of sex and music.) So, yes, i’m a hedonist. And, yes, for me food is up in the top five enjoyable things about life.

Also, Pollan is a really fantastic author. While i’m sure i made it sound doomy and gloomy in my little rant, this book is also really funny and engrossing.

(And when you’re done with this, go read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, also by Pollan. It’s a more macro, where food comes from take on the subject. And is fucking awesome.)


With “mostly plants” in mind –

My Mom’s Really Good Oil-and-Vinegar Dressing (I realize this could well be called a vinaigrette, but it never went by that name when she made it.)

Olive Oil and Red Wine Vinegar in equal amounts
A little bit of Balsamic vinegar (this is not how my mom made it, but i’m all about some good vinegar, so i usually include that)
One clove of garlic, crushed
a pinch of:

Celery Salt (or Celery Seed) if you have it
Mustard (the ground powder spice, not squeezy mustard…it help keep the oil and vinegar mixed)
Tabasco Sauce or cayenne pepper (very little…not enough to make it spicy, but a drop or so will bring out the flavor of everything)

and, um…mix it all together in a jar or bottle. Shake it up to pour and all that good stuff. It’s best to make a bunch and let it hang around to be used whenever you need it because it really soaks up all the flavors that way. Plus, then you have it laying around, which is totally a life saver for me – it’s two-second flavoring for almost any food, so i use it on pastas and such if i’m trying to throw something together quick-like (like lunch).  Also, a note: the olive oil solidifies in the fridge, which is a pain in the ass, but you can just leave it out because of the vinegar. That is, never ever leave plain garlicky oil at room temperature – it grows botulism which can, you know, kill you. But the point is that it’s okay as long as there’s vinegar (or lemon juice, something acidy). So…that’s how not to die. And to eat tasty salad, also.

Bonus: Super-Fun Hot Dressing

Enough oil to make a little layer in a small frying pan
Garlic clove, crushed
White vinegar

Heat the oil, cook the garlic ’till brown, add a splash of vinegar to the pan. Warning – never fry naked! Or, seriously, adding vinegar to a pan of hot oil causes total oil-splattering craziness for a minute. It’s pretty damn cool and impressive, but don’t hurt yourself. When the craziness dies down a bit (that is, whenever you’re comfortable putting your hand back near the pan), turn it off and pour the hot dressing right on the salads. A bit of salt and pepper never hurts at this point either.

This one came from a vegetarian cookbook i have, from a recipe for salad with a poached egg on top (and then this dressing). It sounds pretty odd, but it was freaking great.

So, have fun eating plants! Or, at the least, food (it’s harder than it sounds).

Lady Brett

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2008 3:20 pm

    oh i love homemade garlicky salad dressing. will definitely try both of yours. i’m in agreement about the “eat actual food” thing. even if we could make (unproblematic) food-from-chemicals, i mean, why? what’s wrong with the stuff we’ve already got, that’s been keeping folks alive all this time? i grew up on stuff like hot dogs and velveeta and pringles and life is much better now.

  2. July 21, 2008 12:08 pm

    ok, so t. actually made your mom’s dressing while i hooked up the stereo. (and i swear, we were not trying to play house butch/femme style. sigh.) anyway, it rocked. thanks!

  3. July 21, 2008 12:23 pm

    yay! glad you like =)
    hehe “play house butch/femme style,” cute. and, y’know, sometimes that just happens. me and jake used to joke all the time about “boy chores” and “girl chores” (though that didn’t necessarily reflect who was doing which ones)

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