Monday, May 10, 2010

Food Rules: A review of Michael Pollan's guidebook on "What to Eat"

I've been hesitating to buy Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" because I have read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" as well as half of "In Defense of Food" and figured most of what he spells out in his set of 64 rules I would have already received from reading his two other most popularized books ("The Botany of Desire" is his other less discussed food related works). I had a little money left on a Barnes & Noble gift card I had from Christmas which was just enough to almost totally cover the cost of the little $11 volume-- so I picked it up Friday night and planned to read it sometime this weekend. I ended up finishing it in about an hour and 15 minutes on my bus ride home Saturday morning-- easy enough to read and valuable advice for anyone who does.

The little manual is a quick and enjoyable read filled with common sense and smart tips for simple ways to improve the way one eats. When I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" I was entirely captivated through the first two-thirds of the book, then I began losing interest as his writing began to meander a bit. The conciseness of "Food Rules" makes it easy for Pollan to complete this tiny volume without ever seeming to be writing to fill publisher's space. The rules are sound and straightforward and easy to begin implementing immediately. 

Pollan's introduction hits on some of the points he makes in his two popular works which boils down to how capitalistic food has become and how that fact is generally bad for human health (but good for the economy). Healthy people make for reduced need for doctors, hospitals, medicine, diets, diet plans, etc. Capitalism may be killing us and Pollan's rules could help reverse some of the negative effects making food profitable has caused. The politics of food is a constantly ongoing conversation today, which I hope does not end up muddying why the exchange began and become about something different. 

I don't know that I can argue most Americans are aware of the effect processed food has on our health and general well-being but as a nation we are certainly making strides towards a holistic understanding thanks to things like PBS airing "Food Inc." on Earth Day and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution receiving a primetime spot on network television. I believe in America and Americans and think that we can change the way we all eat and the way we relate to food. "Food Rules" would be a good place for anyone unfamiliar with the food revolution to start changing their eating habits with sensible advice. Without reading further into the elaborate system of food production set-up in this nation a reader of "Food Rules" can start implementing some of Pollan's rules and will see the effects without having to read about it. 

Here are a few of my favorites: 

Rule 12: "Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle" 
An easy way to change the way we shop and an eye-opener for someone who has never considered all the fresh food is kept on the outer edge of the grocery store. 

Rule 14: "Eat foods made from ingredients you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature" 
Simple enough right? But how often do we eat things we can't pronounce let alone picture? I've been trying it out this weekend and it really helps eliminate a lot of the highly manufactured foods we should be avoiding anyway. 

Rule 35: "Eat sweet foods as you would find them in nature" 
Pollan makes an excellent point about eating the way nature intended it. The planet was so perfectly created to be balanced that even the way we get foods that we find appealing i.e. sweets, in nature come paired with things to help us digest them and live best, i.e. fiber! 

Rule 39: "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself"
This is one of my top favorites!! Living in Manhattan with the prevalence of sweet treats coming at me from every angle-- even in trucks! I think that this rule is one people could easily take the wrong way, but making your own treats is enjoyable, you know what goes into them, and you tend to not want to devour them as quickly after the work you put in them to make it. Maybe i'll bake myself some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies tomorrow? 

Rule 43: "Have a glass of wine with dinner" 
Certainly one most people can take to quickly! My friend Jocelin believes in having a drink a day and it seems she is right to believe in the benefits of it. Here Pollan discusses the French Paradox and how it is they seem to be so much healthier than us, and nods to the gentle consumption of wine with leisurely meals of small plates with friends is certainly one of the things they are doing right. The key here is balance and to not over do it and end up drunk at the end of dinner! 

Rule 44: "Pay more, eat less"
While I believe in this principle of this rule, it is hard for a single person on a budget to take up. The thing that I can do best for myself is to only buy food I know I will be able to consume/freeze before it goes bad and to generally not buy more than I need. Luckily vegetables (Following Pollan's main advice "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.") are not too expensive, especially if I get them at a farmer's market. 

I plan on trying to stick to some of Pollan's rules and see how easy they are to incorporate into my daily habits. I'll start by focusing on these favorites I've selected and gradually include more and do my best to update you in the blog or on twitter. 

Check Pollan's book out of your local library, take an hour to go read it in the store, or if you can afford its low price pick it up for yourself and make notes! Write about the foods you eat with ingredients you can't pronounce or picture, the junk you could make at home for yourself so it takes out a lot of the junk, write-up a cheat sheet for yourself when you go grocery shopping, photo copy some of the pages and post them on the fridge for your family to read without thinking about it and in turn start thinking about what they eat before they consume it. 

Start your own revolution! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great read - this Michael Pollan & I are obviously food soulmates.
Thanks for the drinking shoutout!