Michael Pollan Offers 64 Rules for Eating Well

Michael Pollan continues his campaign for real food (Not too much. Mostly plants) with a book of rules

Take Michael Pollan’s 64 new food rules and eat them.

The American author/journalism professor’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual has just been released.

It’s the third in a food series that started with The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals in 2006 and continued with In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto in 2008.

Food Rules distills what Pollan has learned into 64 rules.

Here’s an edited version of a telephone interview with Pollan, a professor of science and environmental journalism at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California.

Q: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” is a powerful, memorable statement that was in In Defense of Food and now Food Rules and sums up your food philosophy. What effect has it had?

A: It has kind of entered the culture as a meme. I hear it all the time and see it on T-shirts. The idea was to make some very easy rules people would remember. The “mostly” (mostly plants) is controversial. It seems to annoy both carnivores and vegetarians.

Q: Now you’ve given us Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual with 64 digestible points/rules/personal policies. Why?

A: I did this because I was hearing from lots of medical professionals, doctors and parents that they would love to have something – a pamphlet, really – that pared things down to the essentials. I wanted to reduce the message and get it out to a lot of people who might not be ready or willing to read a whole book. I wanted to preach to beyond the choir. I spend a lot of time talking to upper-middle-class, affluent people, but talking to them about obesity and diabetes. I’m trying to reach a very broad audience. It’s meant to be user friendly, something where you can dive in anywhere and come back.

Q: You’ve nailed one of the biggest food problems with the term “edible foodlike substances.” Did you coin this phrase?

A: I think I did coin this phrase. I felt a big part of our problem is that we should eat “food” and a whole lot of things don’t deserve that designation. I felt I needed a counterpart to food to draw that distinction. I tried to be as value-neutral as I could.

Q: Rule 17: Eat food cooked by humans, not corporations. Does anybody want to cook anymore?

A: Yes and no. Many people feel they don’t have enough time to cook. Many people feel intimidated by cooking. Many do want to cook but are stymied by a lack or knowledge or equipment. I see inklings of a shift back to cooking, somewhat due to the economy. I think there are people rediscovering the kitchen right now. The more I look at this question, the collapse of cooking is a very big part of our problem all the way down to the farm.

Q: Rule 28: Buy a freezer. What’s in yours?

A: I have half a lamb in my freezer right now that was given to me by a farm around here – Full Belly Farm. So we’ve been gradually working on that. It’s in cuts, not a whole carcass. When we find a good source for grass-fed beef, we get assorted cuts of that, too.

Q: Rule 46: Stop eating before you’re full and try to eat only to 67 to 80 per cent capacity. Easier said than done?

A: Once you start paying attention to it, it’s just about being mindful. Yeah, for most North Americans it is hard. We’ve been sort of taught by the culture to eat until you’re stuffed. The French say: “Je n’ai plus faim” – I have no more hunger. Ask yourself, before you take that bite, is my hunger gone?

Q: My 10 minutes are up but I have more questions, like, what have you eaten in the past 24 hours?

A: Yesterday for lunch I had a little bit of yogurt with trail mix mixed in. For dinner we had brined, organic chicken served with whole grain couscous and oven-roasted brussels sprouts. This morning for breakfast I had steel cut oats and that’s as far as I’ve gotten today – it’s 11: 45 a.m.

Q: That’s not very much food.

A: I should say in the afternoon I was helping a chef friend prepare cassoulet and had some boudin blanc sausage. Oh, and I had an apple actually for dessert.

Q: Are you done with writing about food?

A: Um, no. I’m not. I have more to say. I want to write about cooking, and I want to learn how to cook better. I also have not written very much on the international food question – how you feed the world.

Q: Rule 64: Break the rules once in a while. Which have you broken lately?

A: Well you know I don’t really have trouble going along with these rules on an everyday basis. There’s not too much that I miss. I guess the “stop before you’re full.” I don’t have a big sweet tooth. I do have a fat tooth. Cheeses are a bigger weakness for me than pastries, but cheese is real food. French fries – that’s one rule that I break. I’m not cooking my own french fries.