After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, I went in search of other books by Michael Pollan and came across Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.
There are two versions of the book. The first published in 2009, and a revised version published in 2011 with illustrations by Maira Kalman. I chose the latter version.
Pollan shares his view that humans are able to eat a wide range of foods, follow diverse diets, and be healthy. The Western diet of eating lots of processed foods and meats, added fat and sugar, refined grains, and not eating a lot of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is one of the few and possibly only diets that does not work. As evidence, he points to the high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer among people eating the Western diet and that those who stop eating it significantly improve their health.
Pollan strives to demystify healthy eating and has simplified it to just seven words:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
The book’s food rules are a means to help readers understand, remember, and follow healthy eating habits. They are divided into 3 sections.
What Should I Eat? (Eat food)
In this section, readers learn or are reminded of the difference between real food and what Pollan calls edible foodlike substances. For example, Rule 2: Don’t Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food, Rule 11: Avoid Foods You See Advertised on Television, and one of my favorites, Rule 24: When You Eat Real Food, You Don’t Need Rules.
What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Mostly Plants)
The rules in this part point us to what to eat and not eat. Rule 28: Eat Your Colors simplifies the matter of trying to figure out antioxidant phytochemicals in various foods by suggesting eating fruits and vegetables in a wide spectrum of colors. I especially like Rule 50: Avoid Ingredients That Lie to Your Body, such as artificial sweeteners, fake fats, and the like.
How Should I Eat? (Not Too Much)
This segment covers guidelines on habits and strategies for healthy eating. We’d probably all be better off if we followed Rule 57: If You’re Not Hungry Enough to Eat and Apple, Then You’re Probably Not Hungry. It would be wonderful if all sweets were served in tiny portions a la Rule 63: “The Banquet Is in the First Bite”, and combined with Rule 68: Serve a Proper Portion and Don’t Go Back for Seconds.
The Bottom Line
When compared to previous Michael Pollan books, Food Rules is a slender volume. It condenses information and ideas from previous books. The rules format along with the colorful illustrations make for a book that is fun and easy to read. Using numbers may help readers remember what they learned and actually put it to good use.
My favorite rule is Rule 83: Break the Rules Once in a While. I agree with Pollan that obsessing over food is not good and what we eat on a daily basis matters the most, not the occasional splurge. The key word being occasional.
I enjoyed reading Food Rules and recommend it to anyone who just wants some simple, straightforward guidance on healthy eating.