Food Rules — Book Review

Food Rules Book CoverAfter 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.

Book Review

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.

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Meatless Monday — More Fruits and Veggies Monday

Before the movement to reduce eating meat for health, environmental and animal welfare reasons, the U.S. government introduced “Meatless Monday” to help feed our troops and allies during World War I and II.

Meatless Monday History Highlights

1917 USDA Eat More Cottage Cheese Poster1917: The U.S. Food Administration (USFA) launched a campaign to encourage Americans to conserve food during World War I which became known by the slogan “Food Will Win the War.” One element of the program was “Meatless Monday.” To help get people on board, the USFA distributed posters, educational materials, recipes, and conducted cooking demonstrations. The result was a voluntary 15% reduction of domestic food consumption.

1942: The Food Rationing Program was instituted during World War II. Families received a “War Ration Book.” Each stamp authorized a purchase of rationed goods in the quantity and at the time designated. “Red Stamp” rationing covered all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and with some exceptions, cheese. “Meatless Monday” returned as one means of reducing meat consumption.

2003: A former ad executive and health advocate named Sid Lerner reintroduced “Meatless Monday” as a public health awareness campaign. The initiative was backed by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future and other institutions.

2005: A nonprofit public health initiative, The Monday Campaigns, was founded in association with Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, and Syracuse University.

2009: The “Meatless Monday” movement gained momentum and spread across the world as individuals and families were joined by countries, cities, celebrities, schools, restaurants, and food service companies.

Meatless Monday Benefits

Health

According to some health professionals, reducing red and processed meat intake may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity along with its related complications.

Environment

Growing, processing, transporting, and distributing food of all kinds uses land, water, energy, and fuel and generates waste. Meat, especially beef, has a significant carbon footprint and is not a particularly efficient way to nourish people. Eating less meat benefits the environment and people.

  • Land – about ¾ of the agricultural land in the world does not feed people. It is used to produce food to feed livestock or as pasture and grazing land. Beef generally take 3 to 5 times as much land to produce the same amount of protein from pork, chicken, milk, or eggs.
  • Solutions for Deforestation-Free Meat Report Cover - Union of Concerned ScientistsWater – meat requires a huge amount water to produce 1 pound of meat: 1,847 gallons for beef, 717 for pork, and 518 for chicken.
  • Global Warming – cows produce a large amount of methane which causes about 23 times as much global warming per molecule as carbon dioxide. Clearing forests for more land to graze livestock or grow food for them destroys trees which sequester carbon, thus contributing to global warming.
  • Pollution – nitrogen fertilizers and manure from livestock can wash into waterways and pollute rivers and oceans.
Animal Welfare

Some people chose not to eat meat. For others, humanely raised meat and other animal products are of concern. If people eat less meat, fewer animals are killed for food and possibly fewer live in poor conditions.

Meatless Monday Initiative and Website

Meatless Monday (MM), a The Mondays Campaign program, is an international initiative that encourages people to start the week on a healthy note and reduce their carbon footprint by not eating meat on Mondays.

Meatless Monday PosterThe MM website contains articles, downloadable toolkits and posters, recipes, a list of committed celebrities, and a FAQ page. Users can take a pledge to go Meatless Monday. The global page includes links to websites for other countries that have joined the campaign.

I could not locate a specific description of what constitutes meat on the website. Posters show cows, pigs, and chickens, so I guess it’s up to us to choose our own definition.

More Fruits and Veggies Monday

“Meatless Monday” may seem negative to some, so perhaps we should focus less on eating less meat and more on eating more fruits and vegetables. This seems to be the approach taken by several of the Meatless Monday international organizations: Green Monday (Croatia), Veggie Monday (Japan), Monday Vegetarian (France) to name a few. “More Fruits and Veggies Monday” isn’t exactly a catchy phrase, but I like the positive mindset.

“Meatless Monday” began as a means to help fight World War I and II and has morphed into a way to fight for the health and well-being of all people and the planet.

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