FOOD RULES: AN EATER’S MANUAL
By Michael Pollan
In this little volume, Michael Pollan of The Ominivore’s Dilemma fame decries the confusion and uncertainty in the field of nutrition. For the “Nutritional Industrial Complex,” confusion about food “is good business,” he says. Food Rules builds on Pollan’s haiku-like aphorisms: Eat food; mostly plants; not too much. But his prescription is nothing but confusion and contradiction from square one. Case in point: He comes out firmly against meat in the Introduction, lumping consumption of meat with “added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains” instead of “vegetables, whole grains and fruits” as the cause—agreed upon by “all contending parties in the nutrition wars”—of all the Western diseases (he didn’t ask our opinon). Yet he notes that the Eskimos, the Masai and the French are healthy—and these folks eat lots of meat. He also says to eat the way our grandmothers ate; weren’t our grandmothers the ones who heaped our plates with meat so we’d be healthy and strong? No, says Pollan, “Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than what stands on four legs [cows, pigs and other mammals.]” Snacks, he says, should be limited to unprocessed plant foods—hungry teenagers should lift their sagging blood sugar with carrot sticks, according to Pollan, not cheese, eggs, milk or salami.
Likewise regarding saturated fats, Pollan dedicates the book to his mother, “who always knew butter was better for you than margarine” and admonishes readers to avoid foods with the words “lite” or “lowfat” on the labels. But elsewhere Pollan hews to the party line, blaming saturated fats for chronic disease. (There’s nary a mention of trans fats in the whole book; we shouldn’t focus, says Pollan, on “the evil nutrient in the Western diet.”)
“Don’t eat cereals that change the color of your milk,” says Pollan, but studiously avoids discussion of breakfast cereals or milk—presumably as long as your breakfast cereal doesn’t change the color of your UHT milk, you’ll be fine. Pollan’s rules are witty and clever, but they do not answer the questions that people are asking and certainly don’t make the subject of nutrition any less confusing. Don’t waste your money on this book. THUMBS DOWN.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2010.🖨️ Print post
Michael Pollan irritates the hell out of me
Great review, Tim. I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma (had to for school), and it was incredibly obnoxious. Especially the part where Pollan totally misrepresents the WAPF. I find his writing style incredibly pretentious and narcissistic. I can only imagine that Food Rules is a thousand times worse, since he clearly knows next to nothing about nutrition (and doesn’t care to find out).
Tim Boyd says
Reply to Laurel
Thank you but oops, there was a mistake on the website (which has now been corrected). The review was written by Sally Fallon Morell. Sorry about that.
I will have to say, for all the fawning that accompanied the Omnivores Dilemma , I too found it arrogant and slightly creepy- since when is this fellow a nutrition pundit?
Mike Haliday says
I think your reproof is something too round.
I’ve been a follower of WAPF since 2003 and was even a local chapter leader for several years.
But I have never been able to sell my wife and kids on it: raw milk, wild game, things rotting in jars on the counter, smelly coconut oil, money spent on “holier-than-thou” foods. And this from a wife who grew up on a farm eating very close to traditional nutrition. Nor, I think, has WAPF gained much of a foothold in mainstream consciousness after over a decade of existence. Too much of WAPF is just too weird or different for the average American mindset.
Enter Micheal Pollan, who espouses something very close to the GENERAL principals of WAPF: avoiding chemicals and preservatives, eating gently raised meat, choosing more organic or locally grown foods. “Omnivore’s Dilemma” becomes a best-seller and opens millions of eyes at least a little bit to some the worst dangers of the Standard American Diet (SAD). “Food Rules” follows, a little snack of a book, can be read in an hour, and makes a number of valid points in memorable ways.
My wife, who has never touched even one of my two bookshelves worth of WAPF recommended readings, read “Food Rules” at my request. Now she buying more “holier-than-thou” organic products and shopping regularly at the farmer’s market. She tries to include more fresh vegetables in the family dinners and doesn’t get nearly as irritated when I decline to eat the corn-fed meatloaf.
Is this not a good thing? Could we not use more such books in the mainstream media, leading a SAD nation in step-wise fashion on the longish road towards a better way? No, Pollan’s conclusions are not perfect in a strict dogmatic sense. But could the WAPF brass not point out the basic disagreements (as they have with other books such as Mercola’s “No Grain Diet”) without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
You might as well accuse someone of not being Christian for because they aren’t a reformed southern antioch calvinist, or some such.
Elizabeth Schweizer says
Food Rules is what lead me down the path that eventually brought me to WAPF, so I really can’t look as unfavorably on it as this review does. It starts by challenging so many of the accepted norms of the standard American diet. That is at least something. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. This book is the reason I developed an interest in real foods to begin with.
Nancy P. says
Appears to me that you scathing review of Pollan’s book is really based upon the fact that he states something backed up by LOADS of science: “Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.” Just common sense.
Eat Food: Means real food, not processed, as close as possible to the way it comes out of the ground. Nothing added or taken away.
Mostly Plants: Backed up by decades of research. Unless you want to argue with science, you need to consider this. Many people have been healed from numerous illnesses by turning to a plant-based diet. Visit http://www.NutritionFacts.org by Dr. Greger. Even Mr. Mercola (you know who he is) has tipped his proverbial hat in favor of Dr. Greger’s research-based book.
Not Too Much: Good point, most people (in the U.S.) eat too much. Ever hear of the obesity epidemic?
Pollan exposes many hidden aspects of the food industry and shares his findings. Are you sure you want to denounce his ground-breaking findings?
THEN there’s the fact that some cancers are directly linked to consuming animal products of all kinds, from the most organically-raised to the most processed. There are specific dangers associated with consuming animal products, documented by scientific research.
Environment: Animal agriculture is responsible for over half of all environmental destruction. For FACTS from reliable sources, visit; http://www.Cowspiracy.org.