Monday, February 8, 2010

Book Review: Food Rules

I downloaded Michael Pollan’s Food Rules for my Kindle at a price of $5. For the same amount of money, I could have a) Bought two packages of organic vegetables, b) Bought two cups of my beloved Oikos Greek Yogurt (also organic) or c) Bought an entire meal at Taco Bell.

Pollan is riding a wave of popularity these days thanks to an appearance on Oprah where he enlightened the Mighty O and her followers on the terrifying practices of the food industry and America’s bad eating habits. Food Rules is his collection of 64guidelines to help steer you to making the healthiest choices possible.

In his introduction, Pollan explains that our diet, the Western diet, is the unhealthiest diet in the world. We eat too many processed foods, too much fat, too much sugar and just too much in general. We also have gotten away from eating real food and instead base a large portion of our diet on what he calls “edible foodlike substances”. His rules which are a combination of his suggestions, proverbs from other cultures and old wives tales are meant to serve as quick, easy to remember guidelines for making better food choices.

Many of the rules overlap such as “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize”, “Don’t eat anything with ingredients that a third grader can’t pronounce”, and “Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients.” In short, don’t eat processed food. The rules range from the very boring “Eat when you’re hungry not bored” to the sort of morbid “The more white bread, the sooner dead”.

Food Rules glosses over two of the major hurdles many people face in trying to eat “real” food: affordability and accessibility. While he acknowledges that it’s a disgrace that many people can’t afford to eat better, he also points out that as a nation we spend less of our income on food that any other country which seems to imply that he thinks many people do not have their priorities straight. This may be true but it’s also hard to argue with someone struggling to get by that they should nix the Tyson chicken nuggets and buy their kids organic chicken. The book also assumes that everyone has access to farmers markets and whole food distributors which is not the case.

The book is short (I read it in about an hour), simple to understand and well written. Pollan seems like a nice enough guy and manages to make suggestions without sounding preachy. However, if you have at least a passing interest in diet and nutrition, you won’t find anything here that you haven’t read or seen before. Take your money and buy yourself some Oikos yogurt. If you are a poster child for the Western diet and have no idea how to get back to basics, then this book is a good starting point to get you on the right path to better health.

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