Whenever I get up on my soapbox and start talking to my friends and family about the pitiful state of our food system, the one thing they always ask me is “so what should I eat then?” This is not an easy one to answer since something bad can be said about virtually anything we stick out forks into.
I often retreat and with a shrug of my shoulders mumble something about them having to use their best judgment and that eating too much of something is never good — not very convincing or helpful.
On these occasions, I would have fared much better had I carried a few copies of Michael Pollan‘s new book “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual“ in my bag (it’s small enough, only about 1/3″ thick and roughly the size of a large postcard, to do so). Unlike Pollan’s previous books this is not a deep-dive into the reason’s behind us being fatter and unhealthier than ever, it’s more like cliffsnotes on healthy eating. He distills what he has learned from writing his books into 64 easy-to-remember rules. Pollan writes in the Huffington Post: “The idea for this book came from a doctor–a couple of them, as a matter of fact. They had read my last book, “In Defense of Food”, which ended with a handful of tips for eating well: simple ways to navigate the treacherous landscape of modern food and the often-confusing science of nutrition.”
Pollan consulted folklorists and anthropologists, doctors, nurses and dieticians, mothers and grandmothers, and although most of the rules are written by Pollan himself, others are ancient wisdom carried down over centuries, a few are based on cultural knowledge, and some were solicited from New York Times readers. They are meant to help us make sense of and navigate our current food landscape (which we all know can be pretty confusing).
Although the book may seem overly simplified at times, what counts here is the memorability. When you are standing in the supermarket, confused as to whether the long list of ingredients on the package in your hand contains something that is not good for you, it would be helpful to remember #7: Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce or #6: Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.
There’s so much we all need to know about our food system in order to live healthy and happy lives. “Food Rules” is an easy read, and it handles (some of) these issues in a humorous and light-hearted way (I tend to get so worked up about this kind of stuff that my tirades usually end on something joyful like “we’re eating ourselves to death!”). The book is a great gift for all those people in your life who you want to educate about how to live better by eating well. Anyone can take away a bit of wisdom and perhaps apply a few of these simple rules to they way they shop and eat. The best part is that you can get off that soapbox with a clear conscience; your loved ones will get the information they need, and they’ll still want to hang out with you.
If you have any food rules you think Pollan should know about, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org — he’s still collecting them.