Michael Pollan, author of one of my favorite books The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has published an article, “Unhappy Meals,” in the New York Times Magazine, that uses a lot of words to impart some simple advice:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Pollan is a commonsense voice in a culture that is entirely too obsessed with what we should and should not be eating. One year, eggs are the devil; the next, it’s carbs. First, we weren’t supposed to eat butter; now, we’re not supposed to eat margarine. Pollan cuts through the crap and provides easy-to-remember guidelines to help you eat well, eat healthy and enjoy your food.
Here are Pollan’s nine guidelines from the article, in Reader’s Digest format, with my annotations:
- Eat food — By food, Pollan means the raw, unprocessed stuff, the basic ingredients, stuff your great-grandmother would recognize as food
- Avoid those food products that come bearing health claims — In other words, even if a strawberry isn’t labeled “heart healthy,” it’s still probably better for you than a processed strawberry-flavored cereal that is
- Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar; b) unpronounceable; c) more than five in number, or contain high-fructose corn syrup — In other words, buy your foods as unprocessed as possible, and read those labels
- Get out of the supermarket whenever possible — Get down to the farmers market where your foods are much more likely to be unprocessed; even though we have moved away from the best local farmers market and our locally owned natural foods store recently closed, I admit that I could still make more effort to get up and to the farmers market on a Saturday morning
- Pay more, eat less — “Pay more” means buy more locally grown and organic ingredients that may cost a little more but are better quality and taste better; “eat less” is good advice for those of us who aren’t athletically inclined and want to keep our weights at a reasonable number
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves — Pollan is advocating a mostly vegetarian diet, with meat used mainly as seasoning; I find that I need a little protein for true satisfaction, but a little goes a long way, and leaves — such as spinach, chard and kale — have been recent favorites in our household
- Eat more like the French or the Japanese or the Italians or the Greeks — In other words, pay attention to the culture of eating in those countries where they seem to eat well but don’t have runaway obese rates; notice how meals are more social, portions are smaller, and people take time to both cook and enjoy their food
- Cook, and if you can, plant a garden — Nothing has built my pleasure in eating more than learning how to cook good, satisfying meals; expanding the garden is my next learning project
- Eat like an omnivore — Try new things and eat broadly, a little of many different things
These are not just guidelines for a healthy diet, but also for eating with pleasure, for expanding horizons to try new foods and new cuisines, for immersing oneself in the eating experience, from shopping/growing to cooking to eating. I already try to follow all of these guidelines — they really are just common sense — but it is a good idea to be more conscious of them. That’s where I think food blogging really helps, because even after the cooking and eating experience is over, blogging about it helps us take the time to reflect on that experience, learn from it and develop.