Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts, comments and reflections on Michael Pollan's "Food Rules"



Food Rules


I recently posted a review of Michael Pollan's outstanding book, Food Rules, on Elephant Journal, and I thought I'd take the time to delve a bit more into the book and specifically address some of the points and "rules" laid out in the book. The book itself is a quick and interesting read, with some humorous touches tossed in here and there, keeping it from getting overly dry as well. Of the 64 rules presented in the text, there are some that definitely stand out for me.

Rule 11: Avoid foods you see advertised on television. This is one that comes back to my brain with every television advertisement I see about food... and there are A LOT of them. I notice them more now that I tend to adhere to this rule. Do I get tempted? Definitely. Some of those ads make the "edible foodlike substances," as Pollan calls them, look pretty tasty, but then, that is exactly what they are designed to do. As he points out, "more than two-thirds of food advertising is spent promoting processed foods..., so if you avoid products with big ad budgets, you'll automatically be avoiding edible foodlike substances." (25) Quite frankly, I've noticed that the more money a company has to spend on advertising, the less money they are spending on quality ingredients. No thanks.

Rule 12: Shop the peripheries of the supermarkets and stay out of the middle. The few times I do go to the supermarket (see rule 15 below), I try to follow this as much as I can... it's amazing how much crap doesn't end up in the shopping cart when I do this.

Rule 15: Get out of the supermarket whenever you can. This one is my hands down favorite, and is the one I follow the most closely. Thanks to the bounty of the Boulder Farmers Market and various other farmers and locations (see my links to the right), the vast VAST majority of my food comes directly from the source. There are still a few things I pick up from Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage (a Colorado-based grocery store), but by and large, my produce, meats, and most of my dairy are delivered directly to me via a farmers market, farm stand, or some other similar arrangement.

I've had it remarked that this makes my food more expensive... it does, but it doesn't. According to statistics, the average meal travels something like 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Along the way, valuable nutrients are lost (assuming it's not overly processed, yet another way to lose those nutrients), and as a result, not only is the food system itself unsustainable (WAY too much oil being used that way), but it's also less nutritious, so my body will often crave more of it, so I end up eating more. Locally grown foods are highly nutrient dense, so while I may pay more per pound, in reality I end up saving money because I'm eating less of it. Not only that, but I'm supporting a local business (big thing for me) versus a large corporate agribusiness, and my food just simply tastes better.  Which brings me to...

Rule 44: Pay more, eat less. This rule addresses the quantity versus quality rule. The old axiom of "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to food, and it puzzles me why people are willing to avoid spending money on what is probably one of the most important expenditures of their lives (literally) but then will throw money at the next thing that comes along that they really don't need but have to have thanks to the consumer culture they have bought into so heavily. According to Pollan, "Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is a literal shame, but most of us can: Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, less than the citizens of any other nation. As the cost of food in America has declined..., we have been eating much more (and spending more on health care." (99-100) It's no secret that we spend more on health care in this country than the vast majority of citizens in other countries. The correlation seems pretty obvious to me.

In general, this is one of the better books on food out there. Short, simple, and straightforward, this is a book that I tend to recommend to just about everybody when I get in discussions about food (which is pretty often, really). If you haven't read it, do so. It'll give you quite a bit to chew on. (Pun intended.)

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