In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
(Penguin, $21.95)

Real food is at something of a disadvantage at the typical American supermarket, says author Michael Pollan. The yams and the mustard greens might be placed near the front door, but the chicken nuggets in the freezer aisle advertise far more convenience. Likewise, every box of sugared cereal contains loud claims about the health benefits of the food-like substances inside, while it’s hard to find much information on the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. The result: A mere four crops—corn, soybeans, rice, and wheat—account for two-thirds of the calories that Americans end up consuming. Shoppers shouldn’t be bullied, says Pollan, into filling up on processed-food products and seeking nutrients through additives. “Eat food,” he counsels. “Not too much. Mostly greens.”

As that seven-word mantra illustrates, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times, Pollan has a real talent for turning the brilliant food journalism he’s known for into blunt, memorable advice. His 2006 best-seller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, illuminated systemic dysfunctions in our food-producing industry. This “lively, invaluable book” outlines how health-conscious and socially responsible people ought to approach eating if they want to make a difference in their lives and cause minimal harm to the environment. Unfortunately, this so-called manifesto exposes Pollan as a poor choice for leader of a revolution, said Jonathan Liu in The New York Observer. Like other Berkeley, Calif., food snobs, he’s ultimately more interested in elevating his own dinners into quasi-religious rites than in identifying ways to put healthful food on the tables of the millions now surviving on agribusiness’ cheap calories.

People expect too much from Pollan, said Laura Shapiro in Just because Pollan’s not “marching against Monsanto” doesn’t mean he’s guilty of letting agribusiness off easy. Even this relatively light book is “intensely political” in the sense that “it’s about changing the way we think.” While Pollan may be deaf to how elitist or impractical he sounds when recommending eaters avoid supermarkets or forage for greens in the wild, many of his guidelines will stick in your head. Pollan insists, for instance, that all diet advice focused on particular nutrients should be greeted with deep skepticism, said Michael Astor in the Associated Press. The alternative? You already know it: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly greens.”