Rules for Eating, According to Michael Pollan

Rules for Eating, According to Michael Pollan

Food & Drink

Rules for Eating, According to Michael Pollan


By Cari Martens

Michael Pollan, professor of science journalism at the University of California-Berkeley, has become a near household name, not for science journalism, but for his philosophy on food and diet. His two previous books, ‘In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto’ and ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ have earned high praise—and his participation in the Oscar-nominated film documentary, ‘Food Inc.,’ has brought Pollan additional notoriety.

In his last book, Pollan boiled down his diet advice in seven simple words: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ He’s added another nugget to that credo: ‘If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.’

In his latest book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, Pollan has spelled out his dietary recommendations a bit further. As Jane E. Brody points out in her New York Times review, Pollan identifies two fundamental facts that underscore the need for Americans and other Westerners to make changes in their eating habits. First, he points out that populations who rely on the so-called Western diet (lots of processed foods, meat, added fat, sugar and refined grains) ‘invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.’

Fact number two, according to Pollan: people who consume traditional diets, mostly free of the foods described in Fact One, experience these diseases at much lower rates. And those who have abandoned Western eating habits often experience a rapid improvement in their health.

Brody points out her own third fact: our economy can’t afford to continue to treat the health conditions caused by the Western diet. Pollan himself, writing for the Huffington Post, called his new work a ‘completely different way to fix the health care crisis.’

The Rules

One of Pollan’s rules is characteristically concise: ‘Cook.’ ‘Cooking for yourself,’ he says, ‘is the only sure way to take back control of your diet from the food scientists and food processors.’ He says home cooking doesn’t need to be difficult or time consuming and notes that you can make up for time spent over the stove with time saved not visiting doctors or shopping for clothes to accommodate expanding waistlines.

Other examples of Pollan’s rules:

  • Eat at the table, NOT at your desk, watching TV or driving
  • Avoid sugar, high fructose corn syrup and refined flour
  • Avoid foods advertised on TV (those who raise healthy natural foods don’t usually have the budget for national advertising)
  • Buy foods from Farmers Markets
  • Shop the periphery of the store, not the center aisle where all the processed foods are
  • Never get your ‘fuel’ from the same place your car does
  • Keep healthy things on hand if you need to snack between meals (raisins, walnuts, etc.)
  • Stop eating before you’re full

Could Michael Pollan’s ‘Food Rules’ bring new momentum to the Slow Food trend? Probably. Will it keep the Locavore movement moving ahead? Sure. Will it have a major effect on America’s diet habits? Questionable.

I’m just not sure most of us have the stomach for it.

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