Books 14 - 15

14.In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan - This is the follow-up to Pollans's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, attempting to answer the question a lot of readers had after that first book - "What should I eat?" Pollan's simple answer is on the cover of this book, as well as leading off the introduction: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple advice, explained in detail over the course of the rest of this rather short but loaded with footnotes and references book. The bulk of the book deals with Nutritionalism - the science/religion that tells us something new every day about what to eat and what not to eat, often canceling out what we had been told years and sometimes even only months before, the end result of making the process of nourishing ourselves far more complicated than it needs to be. Pollan shows how the US government tried and failed massively to help Americans choose a healthier diet in the 60s and 70s and how it's not even trying any more. He covers the history of nutritional science as it relates to health, pointing out the reversals that come as science unlocks more secrets and taking that as evidence that we probably don't know very much at all about why what we eat affects our health. It's that core theme of the book that has me questioning what Pollan is saying - if scientists don't know, what's he basing his theories on? Common sense for the most part, fine, but some suggestions, such as "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" seems to jump to the conclusion that all new things are probably bad things. It's still a very good book about what's going wrong with the Western Diet, but I wouldn't call it a manifesto.

15. The Rotter's Club by Jonathan Coe - A funny, sad, romantic, historical, and always entertaining coming of age novel about the lives of four young men in 1970's Birmingham England. As an American, I'm sure I'm missing some of the major story line about labour and some of the minor pop culture points, but I understood enough to know that the characters are complicated and interesting and very, very human. I was glad to know there's a sequel, because when this book ended I wasn't ready to say good bye to these guys or their families.

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