Simple Food

Michael Pollan’s new book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, is aimed not only at well-balanced foodies but also at those who have been struck dumb by it all: the hyphenated food-lingo, the $3 peach, whatever's going on at Cafe Gratitude. In the introduction, which contains nearly as many words as the rest of the book, Pollan states that Food Rules is designed to make people “substantially get off the Western diet.” He takes the simple line that sums up everything he’d like to say about how to eat – “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – and “unpacks” it into 64 rules any disodium inosinate–addled Twinkie eater can understand, such as Rule 11: “Avoid food you see advertised on television.” Rule 13: “Eat only food that will eventually rot.” Rule 49: “Eat slowly.” They seem simple, and you might think he wrote the book on the spot in his publisher’s office, or while waiting for some wine to breathe. (Indeed, we thought up a few rules of our own in the time it takes a quick lunch to ding: “Avoid food that can be purchased in the checkout aisle of Best Buy.” “If there’s a toy inside, it’s not food. It’s packing material for the toy.”) But Pollan’s rules are, obviously, only deceptively simple. He consulted nutritionists, folklorists, mothers, and doctors, and even threw it open to the public on a Web site. His book is a distillation of scientific studies (Rule 43: “Have a glass of wine with dinner”) and, even more so, wisdom passed down through the ages (Rule 26: “Drink the spinach water”). Although most seem eminently reasonable and fair, we’re shocked to discover that there isn't a single one we have adhered to with any regularity, save the one about eating like a pauper at dinner.
Sat., Jan. 23, 10 a.m., 2010

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