Monday, July 26, 2010

Food Rules, Part II

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Michael Pollan's book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

Part I of the book presented 21 rules for distinguishing real, whole foods from the edible foodlike substances which surround us in the American food landscape. In Part II, Pollan answers the question "What kind of food should I eat?" with 22 more guidelines. He points out the "striking diversity of traditional diets" to demonstrate that no ideal diet exists, but asserts that some types of foods, methods of preparation and food combinations are better for us than others.

I approached this section with a bit of skepticism. I am so tired of nutrition science's focus on identifying 'superfoods' and that special nutrient which magically prevents (or cures!) diseases x, y and z. In the grocery store checkout line, I wince when I see magazine covers announcing the results of the nutrition study-du-jour along with the headlines "Lose Ten Pounds in Time for Summer!" and "Five Easy Dessert Recipes!" next to a photo of an enormous cake. Humph.

I was glad to see that the first rule in Part II was "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves." Wow! What a relief. We don't have to stress out about which vegetable or fruit is THE BEST. When a customer at the market asks me which is healthier, the broccoli greens or the kale, my answer is whichever one you like better because you will eat more of it. Pollan would probably say "both". Rules 25 ("Eat your colors") and 29 ("Eat like an omnivore") stress the importance of a varied diet. Rule 24 suggests a hierarchy of foods based on how many 'legs' they have: plants and mushrooms have 1, poultry have 2, and mammals such as pigs and cattle have 4.

Rule 36 is a little gem about processed breakfast cereals. I probably would have written something like this: Avoid highly processed, fortified breakfast cereals, especially those marketed to children, because they generally are calorie-dense, often made from highly refined flours, and contain chemical dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives. Pollan skillfully condenses it into this memorable phrase: "Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk". Great imagery. I love it.

As a person who has struggled with an unhealthy attachment to sugar, I found Rule 39 especially meaningful: "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." Sort of rules out Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream, my drug of choice, doesn't it? Considering the number and complexity of the ingredients, though, I guess Part I already raised a flag about those addictive little pints. I have tried to take this guideline to heart. I rarely buy ice cream anymore. That is a big step for me. I have tried a couple homemade desserts which have worked well: 1) chocolate pudding from scratch and 2) frozen overripe bananas pureed in the food processor with peanut butter to make a sort of ice cream substitute. The pudding is a lot of work and makes a lot of dirty dishes. Washing the food processor is a pain and we don't often have overripe bananas sitting around. So I don't make these very often, which is exactly Pollan's point.

My favorite rule of all is #30, which ties right in to what we are doing here on our farm: "Eat well-grown food from healthy soil". Instead of using synthetic, quick-fix fertilizers to push our plants to maximum production, we have made the commitment to build up the fertility of our soil with plenty of natural organic matter. The compost, manure and wood mulch we continue to add to the soil make more nutrients available to the plants. We believe healthier soil produces stronger plants which are better able to resist diseases, repel and outgrow insects, and handle harsh weather. Pollan states that research supports the hypothesis that "soils rich in organic matter produce more nutritious food: that is, food with higher levels of antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals."  Sounds good to me!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post, and one that I so relate to. I too have taken note of the absurdity of those magazine covers, and am always very skeptical of nutrition diatribes.

    And I also have adopted that habit of making my own desserts, largely because I avoid wheat, so I make my own brownies and such using spelt flour.

    I haven't read Pollan's book yet, but it's been on my list for a long while, and I look forward to it.