Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Food Rules for a Fool

Guest Post by Sheldon Woytek

I hear the name Michael Pollan quite often. Along with, “Marion Nestle said...,” I hear his name almost daily. Despite this, I’ve yet to read a book of his (or Nestle’s) - unlike Alely, I am not a harbinger of health. I’m sure I’ve heard quotes from his previous books, none of which I remember. And I’m sure some of his principles on eating have been subconsciously passed onto me through Alely’s passion - though, I’ve never been an adherent. It wasn’t until his most recent book, Food Rules, that I was able to get a clear picture of what Pollan is trying to say.

Pollan isn’t a dietitian, nutritionist, or a food scientist - he definitely dislikes the latter. He doesn’t work for the health department, a hospital or the Food and Drug Administration - he’s more honest than the latter. Pollan is an investigative journalist and a journalism professor at UC Berkeley. I didn’t know this until I was researching a trip for Alely to visit Berkeley at the end of 2009. Her goal was to attend a lecture given by Marion Nestle on food politics. While planning her trip, I found that Nestle was scheduled to be a guest speaker for Pollan’s journalism class. The two seem to be quite good friends on the food front. I’m not sure what spurred Pollan to tackle food, farming, eating and health, but he finally caught my attention with his latest book.

Alely introduced me to Food Rules in mid-January. It’s a condensed version of Pollan’s In Defense of Food, written for non-nutritionists. This is not a diet book; it’s a way of life. In mid-December, I had recently made a resolution to join the health coup. January one was a few weeks away, but why wait? I decided to start burning calories through light exercise, but I had no interest in eating less or eating healthy. At Borders one day, Alely mentioned picking up Pollan’s new book. While she went off order a tea and read a magazine, I set out for the computer section. Before I returned to my tea-sipping sweetie, I decided to find her a copy of Food Rules. As I sat at the table, among the dozens of other reading patrons, I began to flip through an eater’s manual.

The subtitle is most fitting. It’s a common sense, why didn’t I see it that way before, kind of manual. The first thing I noticed was that the book is set up in bite-sized rules, rarely more than a page long. Each rule resides in one of the book’s three parts: What Should I Eat?, What Kind of Food Should I Eat?, and How Should I Eat? The first section lays out what is, and is not, food: “Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.” The second section sets the rules to determine which “food” is food: “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk.” The final section covers how to eat - this section contains one of my favorite rules: "Stop eating before you’re full.”

It’s my favorite rule because of its explanation, which follow several of his one-sentence rules. As a forced student of French, I learned the French way of saying, “I’m hungry.” Pollan explains that the literal translation of the French phrase is, “I have hunger.” When the French are done they are not full, they have no more hunger. This rule alone made me realize that the American way of eating is simply ignorant. I was always asked as a child, “are you full?” Why eat until we can’t eat anymore. Why not eat until our hunger is satisfied, then stop - that is after all, how we quench our thirst.

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