A Consumer That Eats Both Plants And Animals Is Called Michael Pollan Plays With His "Food" – Book Review

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Michael Pollan Plays With His "Food" – Book Review

In Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (Penguin Press, paperback edition January 2010, illustrated edition November 2011), Michael Pollan hopes to supply you with a food guide you can read in 20 minutes, pore over and consider hours, and then carry it with you to restaurants and grocery stores to inform your every food purchasing decision. Like Mao’s “Little Red Book”, only for food instead of communism. Alas, he then put out a hardcover edition (illustrated by Maira Kalman) that costs twice as much and isn’t nearly as portable.

Many rules will make you laugh and hopefully think. I like “Eat only food that will eventually rot”. I have noticed that many bakery products seem to have a questionable shelf life. When you have a beautiful fresh baked baguette that starts to mold around day 3 and a piece of generic wheat sandwich bread that is four days older and looks perfect, be very afraid.

Other rules seem reasonable until another rule contradicts it. “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” is pretty obvious, but then you get “Eat like the Japanese.” I promise, my great-grandmother would have taken a look at tofu and used it as a furniture polish. (And “Avoid foods that pretend to be something they’re not.” If you sat my great-grandmother down at a table full of whole grains and vegetables, she’d ask if the roast was still in the oven.

Then there are rules that just make me question the personal experience of Mr. Pollen. “Avoid foods that contain more than five ingredients.” Really? You don’t make a lot of soup, do you? Some of my favorite recipes contain less than five ingredients. As long as these ingredients are themselves “food” according to Mr. Pollan’s definition, I can’t see that putting them together as a group should be a problem. Oh, and “It’s not food if it came through your car window.” I have a great whole food restaurant near my house, and they have deli down the street. I get it, he doesn’t like fast food and neither do I, but some of the rules seem to be more general than what I’m sure he meant, which is “Don’t eat at McDonald’s. .”

One of the most shocking rules for me is “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” Luckily, I know how to cook and I love it, so that would give me that carte blanche to weigh 300 pounds in no time. I don’t fry things very often, not because it’s a big deal, but because I know it’s bad for me (and I hate wasting so much oil because I’m NOT going to save and reuse it). This rule is sure to achieve Mr. Pollan’s goal of weaning you off processed food, because once you’ve tasted homemade chips, you’ll never want to open a bag again. Unfortunately, a lot of foods that are really, really bad for you are really, really easy to cook. However, I am totally behind rule #63, which is “Cooking”. We’re getting fat on things we’d never put in our mouths if they weren’t given to us in disguise.

The one that really bothered me was that he was clearly smart. At least I hope so. “If it’s made from a plant, eat it; if it’s made on a plant, don’t.” Can’t it be both? Many canned and frozen vegetables are processed on the plant, but they often contain more vitamins than fresh vegetables because they were left on the vine or tree longer and then harvested shortly before cooking or freezing (often within 24 hours – it head of spinach at your grocery store was on a truck longer than that). And I’m not going to buy cocoa beans and make my own chocolate. And if Mr. Pollan expects me to give up chocolate, we’re going to have a problem.

But I’m with him on a lot of things, like Pay More, Eat Less which has something in common with my Eat Like a Millionaire plan. Pollan believes, like most foodies, that American food businesses have been so busy trying to make food cheaper that they’ve sacrificed taste and nutritional value. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where I can buy Prime organic beef (and across the street) if I want; not everyone can. On the other hand, not everyone can afford to pay three times as much for organic bananas, especially when you’re going to peel them.

As with many good intentions, Pollan’s rules ultimately run counter to most people’s real lives. How nice if we could all shop at nearby farmers markets and sit with our families at a table for every meal. Mr. Pollan grew up on Long Island and now lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay Area. His wife is an artist and they both work from home. I have been in the situation of working in an office all day and coming home not to rest but to start my second job taking care of my home and family. I will never criticize a working mom who stops by Burger Sovereign or Pizza Palace every now and then so she can have five minutes to herself when she gets home. Fortunately, there are quality frozen meals available more and more that may have strange long ingredients in them, but are scale improvements over fast food. Not all processed foods are poison, and I wish Mr. Pollan had included “Read labels and be a smart consumer” in his rules.

Many reviewers have pointed out that many of the rules are reasonable, and they are, but alas, common sense is not so common. Most everyone who can walk and chew gum at the same time knows that to lose weight you need to eat less and exercise more, yet millions of diet books are sold every year. Clearly, many of us need a conscience to keep preaching common sense into our ear, especially when we’re walking past a Krispy Kreme store, and that’s exactly what Pollan’s Rules are meant to do. The last rule is, “I break the rules every now and then,” with Pollan admitting that if Jiminy Cricket doesn’t shut up every now and then, he’ll be crushed. It’s worth a look; I recommend the thinner, cheaper version that fits in your bag. Consider getting some as stocking stuffers for friends and family who need a little push to kick the junk food habit.

If you want a little more explanation of Pollan’s views and aren’t afraid of a book with more paragraphs than slogans, you might prefer Pollan’s earlier work In Defense of Food: A Maniac’s Manifesto (Penguin, April 2009). This book covers much of the same ground as the Rules, so if you pick this up, you don’t really need the shorter work. Pollan opens the book with his manifesto’s mission statement, “Eat food. Not much. Mostly plants.” Of course, he then proceeds to 256 pages to explain to you what he means by each of these words, none of which are as clear as they seem.

I agree with much of what Pollan has to say; in fact, my husband commented that some of it “looked like me,” perhaps due to Pollan’s use of the term “edible food substance” to avoid calling overly processed foods “food.” Personally, I think Pringles are one of the signs of the Apocalypse and not only do I not allow them in my house, I will not honor them by calling them potato chips (which I love – see above). I refer to them as a “processed dehydrated, shredded, crushed, and formed potato food product” because they deserve no better. But I’ve spent some time in food processing businesses and I just don’t have the fear of them that Mr. Pollan seems to have. I have neither the time nor the inclination to grow all my own food and am happy to pay someone else to do it. Often, I’m happy to pay a little more to someone who does it particularly well.

Pollan’s 2006 work, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is best avoided. Pollan is really intent on pushing his vegetarian agenda and, I believe, unfairly characterizes much of the food industry. Having started my collegiate career looking to study veterinary medicine, I have little experience with animal processing and slaughter facilities, and all I can say is that Pollan clearly went to different slaughter facilities than I did. Pollan actually published a “Young Readers Edition” of The Dilemma, and trust me when I say that if you give this book to your kids, they may never eat again. Stick to the Food headings unless you’re committed to ditching life as you know it and moving to a commune. This omnivore will be here tucking into my steak.

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