Sunday, February 28, 2010

Food Rules : a review

I am a little in love with Michael Pollan. (Don’t tell Mark Bittman.) But I suspected correctly that his recent little book wasn’t going to be anything earthshatteringly new. It was basically just a handy summary of some of his wise principles to keep in mind when making choices about food. A lot of it is common sense, though I think we all know that common sense isn’t as common as it should be.

This small book - light on text and a very quick read - is basically a list of 64 rules about eating, divided into three section based on Pollan’s mantra “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” More accurately, it’s 3 rules with 64 ways to help you remember them. Pollan recommends picking one rule from each section to remember and use.

The first section “What Should I Eat? (Eat Food)” contains rules to help you avoid processed foods. Some examples are:
- Avoid foods that have some type of sugar among the top 3 ingredients
- Avoid foods that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize
- Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not
- Eat foods that will eventually rot
- Eat food made from ingredients that you can picture

The next section “What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Eat Plants)” is a little more specific. Some of the rules are:
- Eat fermented foods
- Don’t overlook the oily little fishes (like sardines and anchovies)
- Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food
- Eat more like the French or Japanese or Italians or Greeks (a traditional food culture)
- Have a glass of wine with dinner (Yes!)
- Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself

Finally, “How Should I Eat (Not too much)” focuses on not overeating.
- Stop eating before you’re full
- Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it
- Pay more, eat less
- Limit snacks to unprocessed plant foods (fruit, veggies, nuts)
- Do all your eating at a table
- Buy smaller plates and glasses
- Cook
- Break the rules once in a while

I’ve been on board with Michael Pollan for quite a while, so his ideas aren’t new to me. (Many of the tips from the third section I read about in the book "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" by Brian Wansink (also highly recommended) and they are definitely worth being reminded of.) Many of the tips are things I’ve been trying to keep in mind for a while now, though some are new, and some are definitely more challenging than others. For example, in the past year or so I have given up eating the tasty fake meats from Morningstar Farms because they are highly processed, contain shockingly long lists of ingredients and I’m not convinced they’re more healthy than eating meat. But avoiding fake meat products means more labor-intensive meals. On the other hand, the majority of my between-meal snacks are fruit and nuts, and that’s easy. I’ve been doing that for a while and it wasn’t even a conscious decision.

Although I borrowed this book from the library, it’s probably a convenient little book to own if you want to be able to refer to it for new tips now and then. But I’m really looking for something new from Pollan, rather than a rehashing of ideas that we have already heard. I hope he has something exciting in the works.

One more thing about the book: I can’t get the phrase “silence of the yams” out of my head now.

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