Rules for eating and the business of food

“Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food” pretty well sums up the thinking of Michael Pollan’s 64 simple food rules in his latest book, ‘Food Rules’, an eaters manual.

The first rule is to simply ‘eat food’ – that’s food, rather than ‘edible food like substances’ or ‘industrial novelties’, as Pollan calls the thousands of new products that appear on grocery shelves each year.

In most cases I agree with his ‘rules’, although some are too much of a generalisation like: ‘Avoid food you see advertised on television’. I happen to like ba-na-na-na-na-nas, the TV ad for them and the jolly ditty that goes with it. In fact, there are a host of agri-food advertisements that are doing their best to get cut-through among the ads for cashed-up ‘industrial novelty’ food like substances. The latter would fall under rule 36: ‘Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the colour of your milk’.

There are a few more rules I would question, such as, ‘don’t ingest food made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap. But mostly there are some clear and basic observations that are simple logic if you have any regard for what you put in your mouth and ultimately your body.

Classically, Pollan says: “It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language.” He is referring to Big Macs and Pringles, which is sympathetic with the notion of rule 20: ‘It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car’.

Along with the cautionary tips comes the self-help logic, ‘Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.’ Here Pollan argues that you can indulge in these treats “as often as you’re willing to prepare them”, which simply won’t be at the ready-made frequency that fast food and corner store outlets conveniently provide.

‘Eat when you’re hungry not when you’re bored’, is yet another rule. It falls into the category of: ‘Try not to eat alone’ or ‘Do all your eating at a table’. I’m thinking eating al desko in the office doesn’t count here nor being glued to the tube with your eating irons poised over a precariously balanced plate.

He did give me some hope for my propensity for accumulating slimy piles in my refrigerator crisper with this, ‘Eat only food that will eventually rot’. All I have to do is find the time to eat it before it rots

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