Michael Pollan – Food Rules (Book Review)

Each time I surf the aisles of the supermarket for something new, I like to check 2 things. One, price. Two, Nutrition Facts. Yes, that rectangular space where packaged foods are virtually broken down into its components. As if I knew what 10g of sugar or 40mg of sodium are supposed to mean. I still scrutinize, since I know anything in font 8 is worth looking at.

Assuming it’s common, common sense can bring us a long way. Michael Pollan has delivered a much-needed pocket guide, Food Rules, in which he serves 64 bite-sized food tips in countenance to the ever-so-complicated formulations of the food manufacturing industry.

Pollan begins with 2 simple “facts”: 1) Western diet leads to many chronic diseases. 2) Traditional diets generally do not lead to these chronic diseases. He then observes that nutritional research ignores both facts and seek to promote small tweaks to preserve the Western diet and make profits from “solutions”. While seemingly obvious, I don’t like the term “facts”. It presumes too much authority, the same way alarmist claims have worsened the state of health in the US.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

These 7 words sum up the book. Incredible. But of course one needs to look deeper into the specificities of what Pollan meant. The book is neatly organized into these 3 categories. Of course, as with all lengthy lists, the tips are bound to overlap and risk generalizations. I will share here 2 good and 1 not-so-good example.

8) Avoid food products that make health claims.

This is a good reminder that affirmative labels are often founded on incomplete science, overlook other details, and sometimes, may mean nothing at all. For instance, does anyone expect sweets to contain FAT? Why don’t they also say, HIGH SUGAR?

25) Eat your colors.

Colors of many vegetables reflect the different antioxidant phytochemicals they possess, which protect us in slightly different ways. This might not be foolproof, but it does make our food decisions more intuitive and less daunting.

52) Buy smaller plates and glasses. vs 61) Leave something on your plate.

These really amount to the same application of an idea: Plates condition our appetites. One should solve the problem instantly by buying smaller plates, rather than needing thrice-daily (or more) reminders to waste some food.

Food Rules Michael Pollan Book Review


Review Verdict: ★★★☆☆ (constructive)

Lots of repetition, but Food Rules is a useful common-sense pocket guidebook that helps one step back from complicated health marketing claims. It is a damning riposte of Western pharmaceutical approaches that such a layperson book easily makes much more sense for our health decisions. Make it your starting point for conscious diets!

The font 8 labels remain useful, but they constitute just one paradigm of knowledge. We don’t need labels for fresh foods.

Michael Pollan – Food Rules (Book Review)
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Socio Empath

Hi, my name is Eugene. I am a Sociology graduate from the National University of Singapore. This blog is an invitation: To see our selves as colored by cultures, and to brighten the colors of our society. I seek to help you create freedom in everyday life, with empathy and the sociological imagination.

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