Michael Pollan, 'Food Rules: An Eater's Manual' and Lisa Jervis, 'Cook Food: a manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating'

IssueDecember 2010 - January 2011
Review by Gabriel Carlyle

Though they need some unpacking, everything you need to know about what to eat can be boiled down to just seven words: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is the conclusion of journalist Michael Pollan after years researching nutritional science. His latest book does some of this unpacking, with 64 simple rules for eating healthily and happily.

Though not anti-science, Pollan has framed these in everyday language, noting that while science has confirmed much of what culture has long known about how to eat well, “it is entirely possible to eat healthily without knowing what an antioxidant is”.

(He also does a nice line in humour: “Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about your health.”)

Six samples will give you the flavour: “Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored”, “Treat meat as a flavouring or special occasion food”; “Avoid foods you see advertised on television”; “Eat slowly”; and “Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods”.

As Michael Pollan notes in his introduction: “Populations that eat a so-called western diet – generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits and whole grains – invariably suffer from high rates of so-called Western diseases” – namely obesity, type two diabetes, heart disease and cancer – while populations eating a wide range of traditional diets don’t suffer from these diseases.

People who get off the Western diet – the underlying rationale behind Pollan’s rules – often see dramatic improvements in their health. Moreover, for those of us concerned about social and environmental justice as well as our own health, these rules – and their underlying seven-word philosophy – are in perfect harmony with the much-needed revolution in modern farming.

Non-cooks stimulated by Pollan to cook their own food, could do far worse than to begin with feminist writer Lisa Jervis’s splendid book.

Several years ago, concerned about the evils of factory farming and her own sugar consumption, Jervis took up a challenge to eat only veganish whole-foods for a month, and has hardly ever looked back since. Her “manualfesto” is a guide to simple, healthy, light-footprint eating, and “a call to action against our wasteful, unjust, destructive, unhealthy, industrialised, corporate-dominated food system (with recipes)”.

There’s useful info on what you need in your kitchen (broken down into handy categories), lots of info about marinading, roasting vegetables, and cooking the perfect vegan brownie, as well as an a excellent reading list. Well worth cooking into.

See more of: Review