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22 April 2010

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Boo to that! I'm not a Pollan fan either (Bittman rocks though!), and it totally sounds like he's pulling a Thomas Friedman here.

Oh, Eva,
A boo for Pollan and a swipe at Thomas Friedman, all in one perfect comment. You just made my day.

How unfortunate. I actually really enjoyed Pollan's other books but this doesn't sound so good at all. It does sound redundant - both the same as his last book, and then chapters being basically the same? I think I will skip this. Thanks for the review!

Ugh. I like Pollan well enough (or at least I loved the Omnivore's Dilemma), but I was annoyed with In Defense of Food because it felt like not much more than a distillation of Omnivore with about a magazine article's worth of helpful food-buying suggestions. (And, to be fair, those suggestions were helpful to me, because I read it when I was relatively new to this sort of eating.) But a distillation of that distillation? It smells of opportunism to me.

Pollan was on The Daily Show promoting this book, and it didn't sound interesting especially since his "rules" were basically to eat healthy diets - high in fruits and vegetables. I didn't read Omnivore's Dilemma, because it was one of those books I felt got so much attention that it wasn't necessary to read it. We talked about this with fiction. I guess it happens with nonfiction, too. Although I had an interesting conversation during a faculty candidate's dinner. Someone said he was a vegetarian until he read Omnivore's Dilemma. I can't remember his exact reasoning, but it was something along the line that small family farmers (unlike factory farms) are environmentally sustainable. We had a lot of wine that night so it didn't make any more sense then as it does now, so maybe someone can elaborate for me. Otherwise, I'll have to read the book.

Word. I mean, I liked The Omnivore's Dilemma, but the rest of it just reeks of greed, or at least of overkill.

I haven't read Omnivore's Dilemma, but I did read and enjoy In Defense of Food. I was uncertain about this book from the word go - despite its price, it's tiny and has huge print - sounds suspicious to me. Grrrr. Thanks for the review; I'll skip it for sure.

I think I'll read Pollan when he decides chocolate is one of the major food groups.

Wait a second. You don't like Pollan's other works because they're too long, but you don't like the shorter book even though it is, basically, an abridged version of the longer books.

I haven't read him before, but this shorter book is sitting at home RIGHT NOW precisely because it is short. I've never felt like slogging through his longer stuff. I figured I'd see what I could glean from the Cliff's Notes version.

I don't know if this will make you feel any better, but the public library where I work doesn't have this in our five-branch collection -- and I can't recall a single person requesting it, either (it doesn't take more than a request or two to get us to order most stuff, especially high profile stuff like this intended for a popular audience). We do have his other works and they are moderately popular. But he's no Dan Brown, or Malcolm Gladwell, for a nonfiction comparison.

Wow, I have struck a chord. Fun! Lesbrarian, I just have to answer yours first because your comment made me laugh. Here's the answer: I am a real picky bitch when it comes to my nonfiction. (Mr. CR also informs me that, in other areas, having "simple" tastes is not necessarily the same as having "easy" tastes.) I neglected to say a few other things about "Omnivore's Dilemma," mainly because I couldn't finish it and didn't think it would be fair to. But I also found it boring, dry, and that something about Pollan's writing makes me think he's in love with the sound of his own voice.

You are of course welcome to look through this book and take away anything that helps you. But I can't imagine it will have any new insight for you--especially such tips as "don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk," "eat slowly," etc. His whole point, which I can express in a sentence, is that our overly processed, chemically engineered, and factory farmed diet is bad for you. Eat anything that doesn't fit in those parameters, basically. (There. You may now send me $11 in the mail.) :)

For the record, I subscribe to the Goldilocks School of Book Length. A book should never be too long, or too short, it should be just right.

Amy, Teresa,
If you've read "In Defense of Food," I honestly can't think why you would need to read this book. Sorry to give a bad review but I was disappointed in it too--I was hoping for something different. I do think Pollan has been helpful in gaining popularity for eating fewer processed foods, but if you've already picked up those basics I think you're good to go.

Venta,
Actually, if you had a lot of wine with dinner, you were following one of Pollan's rules: "have a glass of wine with dinner." :) I love the way you point out that some books get so much word-of-mouth you don't really even have to read them; most of Pollan's latest books have been that way. It happens with other NF authors too--Thomas Friedman, of course, "Tuesdays with Morrie," etc.

Actually, if you're looking for an actually helpful and interesting book about eating (sustainable) meat, I would HIGHLY recommend Catherine Friend's excellent book The Compassionate Carnivore.

Both Lauras!
Forgive my lumping you together but your comments are together also. Word right back at you--and if Pollan had published either this OR In Defense of Food, I wouldn't be as annoyed. Maybe this is meant to be a gift book, meant to be given to people who wouldn't read the longer one. Still and all though. Feels like he could have added something different or more to justify the new publication.

Donna,
Ha! He does say to look at other more traditional worldwide diets, and I think that's where we can work chocolate in. They eat healthier, darker chocolate in other cuisines, don't they?

Nan,
Actually, that does make me feel better. Sounds like other people have come to the opinion that it's not a required purchase too, and that other books in the collection will probably serve just as well.

CR-
I am a Registered Dietitian and chocolate (dark chocolate - in moderation) actually does have some health benefits, but you still have to think about the fat and sugar and calories.

I haven't read any of his books although I've considered them (professional hazard) - might grab The Omnivore's Dilemma from the library now, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Good advice, but I hate it that he's riding this gravy train far too long. Somehow, I don't think he's at the helm of it. I smell greedy publishers at work. Pollan's a talented writer and he should move on to his next great subject.

I completely agree with your assessment of In Defense of Food. I felt the same way when I read it. I liked Mark Bittman's Food Matters so much more, because I appreciated his attitude of "buy what you can, where you can." I thought Pollan came across as a snob. Sounds like I am not alone!

Marmota,
Thank you for the info about dark chocolate. The nice thing about dark chocolate is that it is easier to eat in moderation--richer, not quite as addictive as really sweet milk chocolate. If you read the Pollan book stop back and let us know what you think!

Bybee,
Yes, I figure maybe he doesn't have much choice in this matter, and I guess publishers are so desperate to stay afloat they'll do anything. Doesn't make it right, though.

Priscilla,
I too prefer Bittman. I think he'd be a lot more fun to share a meal with, too.

I try never to pass up an opportunity to snark on Friedman...it's part of the moral code I live by. ;)

Wow, hatin' on Michael Pollan...

Can I stand in the man's defense? Or try? Ok, this book is utter crap. It just is. You can tell it was written by a crowd, which I loathe.

But IDoF was well-written, and intended for a specific audience. I have read dozens of books on food production, health, etc, and in comparison this is easy to read if you are NOT particularly interested in reading 10 books on the subject of healthier eating in all it's guises but DO want guidance on how to eat a little better. Especially if you've followed dozens of fad diets.

Trust me, I have patrons who have read every crap diet book, and actually find IDoF enlightening. We probably had 10 book clubs read it over the past two years. I wish they'd read the Botany of Desire or Fat Land or even Fast Food Nation. But they won't. I'm happy to give this to people instead.

Bittman is good for people who want nuts and bolts of how to throw together healthy meals. I liked the book a lot, and I always recommend it to my patrons. I even pre-ordered it for my personal collection, and got it the day it was released. But seriously? Did all of you actually read the first section? He keeps saying "Michael Pollan said this" and "As Pollan wrote..." The writing is in no way bad, it's just...

...totally derivative. It's basically Food Rules, with recipes and a decent editor. I have all of his cookbooks, and read his blog. So I do love Mark Bittman and was and am happy to give him my money. But I really can't say he wrote anything all that revolutionary, or all that well written.

But his Med Mix spice blend ROCKS.

Hm, sorry. This seems to have turned into a rant. I think I'm irritated with Michael Pollan, and wish he would just write another real book, already.

Rachael,
Thanks for the reminder of what actually makes Pollan valuable. Not being a "read the book everyone else is reading" kind of person (well, I do, but just so I know what lots of people are reading, not necessarily because I want to join in the discussion about it), I forget how that angle of appeal can lead people to new topics they might not otherwise read about. And that is a good thing.

I'll admit I still have a chip on my shoulder about Pollan because "In Defense of Food" was a big One City, One Read book here (which was fine), and he got paid $15,000 to come talk. Now, that's better than the 70 grand Thomas Friedman was asking, and I know Pollan's got to make a living, but come on. (http://www.citizenreader.com/citizen/2009/06/holy-shit-thomas-friedman-you-are-a-pig.html)

I also never thought of people reading this as a "how-to" or "dieting" book--really. Seems like such a different audience, but maybe even serial dieters are getting tired of fads and want something more basic.

Last but not least, I never even noticed all the Pollan references in the Bittman book! Thanks for pointing it out. That is also a bit weak, but I must admit that I still prefer his tone and I like how he backs it up with basic recipes (and how he cooks in a tiny little apartment kitchen in his NYC apartment).

I AM with you on wishing Pollan would write a new book. If you've got talent and an audience you should try some new topics while you can.

Read it last night. It was fine. It required very little time investment. I pretty much knew the rules already, but it was good having the reminders. I can't even necessarily get mad at the guy for writing two versions of the same book; I think they're meant for two different audiences. I haven't read the longer one, but if it's the same content in both cases, but relayed with different depth, language, and accessibility-- well geeze, actually I think it's a good idea.

Like... okay, that book called The End of Wall Street, all about the financial crisis? It is 339 pages. I do not have 339 pages' worth of interest in the financial crisis. But if Roger Lowenstein wants to write the same story in 100 pages, I'll read it.

Now it so happens that I have a lot of interest in food and sustainability-- it's food, I eat the stuff every day, obviously I care-- so maybe I should have read the longer Pollan book in the first place, and then I could have joined in the crowd who slammed him for writing the short one. Oh well.

Lesbrarian,
I'm glad you liked the book and found it useful. Really. It makes me feel better about it being published. I am so used to skimming longer nonfiction books and taking what I need that I do forget that sometimes publishing something in a different format might actually be useful for a lot of people. It's a good point.

My one remaining question is, could it have been a magazine article? Or a giveaway PDF on his website to promote his earlier book? I still say yes to that. But if it worked, it IS hard to argue with results.

You never have to feel bad about not joining the crowd here at Citizen Reader. I believe in dissenting voices--and I'm glad you made yours heard!!

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