Book Review: Food Rules by Michael Pollan

21 Jul

I traded for Michael Pollan’s latest book, Food Rules, a few weeks ago when I was doing a massive weeding of my library in anticipation for my impending move to a tiny, rural town even further into southwestern Wisconsin. Two heavy boxes for Pollan’s pocket-sized book and Driftless by David Rhodes? Yes, please.

I opened Food Rules in the store and knew I would read it in an hour (which I did), but I bought it anyway because I wanted to carry it in my bag to the grocery store. If I were less of a geek I’d be kidding, but you can see where this sentence leads.

Before I’d ever seen Food Rules, I knew Pollan was weathering some criticism for “stretching his material,” for perhaps cashing in on the empire his publishers have built around The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I suspected that criticism was warranted, and after reading it, that may still be true.

Except, so what?

Pollan’s entire philosophy can be summed up, quite brilliantly, I believe, in three sentences: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” So while I can understand the particular complaints about Pollan ripping himself off – the brief book is composed of 64 rules, in 139 pages, with only a fair amount of text – I just don’t care. I loved Food Rules precisely for its distillation and brevity. We need more simplicity in our sensibility these days, no?

In her February review for the New York Times, Jane E. Brody writes, “If you don’t have the time and inclination to read [Pollan’s last two books,] you can do yourself and your family no better service than to invest $11 and one hour to whip through the 139 pages of “Food Rules” and adapt its guidance to your shopping and eating habits.”

I read that and very nearly screamed “Yes, MA’AM!,” in that crazy way one does when imitating a rodeo star. Or, you know, whatever it is you do when you’re in agreement.

It might reveal my bias to admit that a large part of why I loved Food Rules is that I found it to be a comforting pat on the back for the many ways I am already living the nutritional life Pollan advocates. We stopped buying meat at the grocery store a while ago – our meat consumption consists of whatever my husband kills during deer season or catches during trout season, with few exceptions (Rule 38: If you have the space, buy a freezer + Rule 31: Eat wild foods when you can). For the second spring and summer, we’ve bought a share in a CSA, and have been overjoyed with the arrangement (Rule 22: Eat mostly plants, especially leaves). I already avoid highly processed anything because chemicals in boxes seem to contribute to my migraines. (Rule 3: Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry). I could go on.

So yes, sure, Pollan was preaching to the converted, but beyond that bias, I was inspired. I was motivated. Food Rules made me want to do even better than I’m already doing, not because I want to lose weight or save the world, but because I want to feed my body food that makes it feel good, run well, and stay healthy. Pollan’s compilation of nutritional science, cultural history, and folk wisdom is some of the only eating advice that has ever made sense to me.

My biggest endorsement of this book came late last week, when I opened the refrigerator to find a jar of organic applesauce, which I had not purchased.

“Someone’s been in the house!” I screamed to my husband. “There’s some alien applesauce in here!” He came into the kitchen and looked right at me.

“I was at the grocery store looking for applesauce. When I looked at the ingredients–”

“Wait, what?”

“When I looked at the ingredients,” he continued, ignoring me, “I couldn’t picture any of them in my mind. So I went down to [our local natural food co-op] and got this stuff.”

(Rule 14: Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.)

“You read the book? With your eyes?”

“Sweater,” he said, still basically ignoring me, “It tastes like real apples.”


* * * * * * * *

This book was published by Penguin in December 2009. Visit Michael Pollan’s website for more information. If you’d like to purchase this book, why not support independent booksellers? Follow the link below, and happy reading.

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FTC Disclosure: This review was based on my own copy of this book.


5 Responses to “Book Review: Food Rules by Michael Pollan”

  1. Becky (Princess Mikkimoto) July 22, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    I love Michael Pollan! She said while eating cucumbers recently bought at the Farmer’s Market.
    I’m sure you’ve seen Food Inc. Yeah never recovered from that one. Thankfully.

  2. Maggie, dammit July 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    You know, I passed on buying this one because of what you mentioned–I assumed it to be redundant. But now I’m gonna get it after all. Sweater.

    More, please.

    • Jane Doe July 25, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

      I also am a fan of the Pollan. Though his baldness does leave me staring at his shiny head more than listening to him when I watch him in interviews. What can I say? I’m a puppy. I like shiny things.

  3. Praveen July 29, 2010 at 3:40 pm #

    Sounds like “Omnivore” for someone with a Twitter-sized attention span. Sold!

  4. Camille August 3, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    Alien applesauce! Haha!

    I must be the only person in America who hasn’t read any of his books. Sounds like I should start with this one.

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