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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Rules, Old Wisdom

A comforting and terrifying proposition emerged rather quickly after I finally sunk my teeth into Food Rules ($11, Penguin), the easy-reading, good-eating manual Michael Pollan put out recently (in time for Asilomar’s always-illuminating EcoFarm, where I picked it up).

The soothing part: The rules are largely common sense, with many echoing familiar refrains from wise grandmas and time-honored cultures. As he writes in the intro, “the picture got simpler the deeper I got.”

The spooky side: For a common-sense book like Food Rules to even be necessary, we must’ve strayed quite a ways from the once obvious. But after all, the more processed food got, the more profitable became.

But back to simple and good. Pollan even reduces his 64 codes into three Occam’s Razor style nuggets: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."

There’s a healthy amount of overlap among the rules, but it’s partly intended: “Think of these food policies as little algorithms designed to simplify your eating life. Adopt whichever ones stick and work best for you.”

Along the way, it’s culture, not science, that ultimately conquers: “In many cases," Pollan announces, "science has confirmed what culture has long known,” saying later that it's “much less about theory, history and science than it is about our daily lives and practice.” Put differently, “it is entirely possible to eat healthily without knowing what an antioxidant is.”
Major case on the plate: Many traditional diets have proved healthy and delicious…and that only one has been proven to make people sick—four of top 10 killers in the U.S. are chronic diseases clearly linked to the Western diet.

A handful of my favorite and/or unanticipated proverbs from the 64:
#11 Avoid foods you see advertised on television. ("Only the biggest manufacturers can afford to advertise on TV.")

#28 If you have the space, buy a freezer. ("A freezer will allow you to put up food from the farmers market, and encourage you to buy produce in bulk at the height of its season, when it will be most abundant—and therefore cheapest. And freezing does not significantly diminish the nutritional value of produce.")

#39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. ("If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often." Fried chicken, ice cream, chips—all too easy to eat, damn hard to pull off.)

#52 Buy smaller plates and glasses. (We eat "upward of 30 percent more" if the portion swells. "One researcher found that simply switching from a 12-inch to a 10-inch dinner plate caused people to reduce their consumption by 22 percent.")

#64 Break the rules once in a while. (The final rule. "Obsessing over food rules is bad for your happiness, and probably bad for your health too," it reads in part. "Our experience over the past few decades suggests that dieting and worrying too much about nutirtion has made us no healthier or slimmer."

Which speaks to importance of naturalizing these habits - making them relaxing than regulating - which can happen as the satisfaction they net builds self-perpetuation.
Maybe the best morsel, though, appears somewhere in the intro: That we have a shocking amount of brain cells in our stomachs. In other words: Trust your gut.