I just came across a great interview between Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and Michael Pollan on Alternet this morning.
The two books that made the biggest impact on the way I eat are Tom Robbin's The Food Revolution and Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. (His book The Omnivore's Dilemma was also great but didn't really change the way I ate.)
Michael Pollan's main thesis in In Defense of Food is that people shouldn't eat too much food, they should eat mostly plants, and they should eat only things that actually are food. In other words, don't eat food products. He goes on to define food products, and basically they're the product of industrialized food. High fructose corn syrup (and many other corn products made cheap by corn subsidies) is a big indication of processed food. As are many other chemicals.
Being vegan also helped me to recognize the disgusting ingredients that are in foods these days. As a beginner label reader, I at first only looked for ingredients that would make me re-shelf the product, whey, casein, milk, butter, gelatin, lard, etc. But after reading Michael Pollan's books, I became a more avid label reader. Why should I eat something that contains Polysorbate 60 (an ingredient in Cool Whip and Twinkies)?? I even try to limit my consumption of Soy Lecithin, which is prevalent in more foods than you would think, because it's made using hexane, an industrial solvent.
(Not to mention, many foods that use cheap corn (or soy) products are probably using genetically modified corn (or soybeans), and I hope to write a post about that in the future.)
Back to the article. It's a really great overview of Michael Pollan's arguments about how the food system really affects us in ways that may not be immediately apparent. A large part of the health crisis is likely related to food (and another large part in industries creating all of these toxic chemicals in the first place, and being totally unregulated, but that's another rant for another day).
It amazes me to think of how much effort went into mandating companies to put ingredient labels and nutrition information onto foods, and how much of an enlightening thing that can be for consumers if we only LOOK at it. But so many people have bought into the idea that we don't have enough time to read labels, or cook healthy food, that people don't read the labels, or don't care what the ingredients are. We've been sold on the idea that we can live better through science that we may be wary of giving a critical eye to what's in our food. For me, it's scary to think that I ate so many food products for so much of my life, but ignorance isn't bliss. Read the labels, and start eating real food!