Library Director’s Notebook
Lots of people make resolutions in January, the beginning of the calendar year. But all my years of going to school each September, followed by my son’s school years have made me feel that September is the true “beginning” of the year and a good time to make resolutions and form new habits.
With a focus on self improvement each Fall, I often read self help books in September. One of the very best I’ve come across recently is Food Rules by Michael Pollan. Pollan is a serious, focused writer, highly respected for his well researched books on food and the food industry. Anyone interested in the food chain and how the food industry has influenced our health and eating over the past century would be intrigued with Pollan’s two seminal books on the subject: The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. But those books are hefty and time consuming (though fascinating) tomes. If like me, you don’t always have the unlimited time you’d like to curl up with a book, I would suggest the pared down but no less important version of Pollan’s ideas, succinctly and often humorously explained in Food Rules.
“Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”
“Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third grader cannot pronounce.”
“Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does”
These pithy, amusing caveats make up the bulk of this slender volume. The message is simple and undeniable. As consumers of the typical “Western diet”, Americans eat more “foodlike products” than food. That is, we eat food or food like substances that have been processed and prepped and presented to us in ways that make us crave them, crash after eating them, and then hurry to cram more of them into our gaping mouths. The result is an epidemic of obesity in the United States and other parts of the Western world, along with all of the accompanying problems such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
High fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oil, Xantham gum… who the heck really wants to eat them? Certainly not my great grandmother! Yet processed foods containing these products and countless others now make up the lion’s share of the Western diet, with predictable yet deplorable results.
Does this mean that Pollan would have us eat rabbit food, consisting of a few pieces of lettuce and a scrap of carrot? Not at all! Instead, everything, Pollan says, about eating well is contained in the following 7 words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” By food he pretty much means all food, including meat, dairy, fish, vegetables, fruits, fats, and pretty much any combination thereof, so long as it is fresh as possible, minimally processed, not eaten to excess, and eaten mindfully.
Sounds simple. And it is simple, except the world’s vast food conglomerate (including, Pollan doggedly insists, people who call themselves Nutritionists) keeps distracting us from this simple wisdom with lots and lots of highly processed food, foodlike substances, or added “nutrients” that have nothing to do with healthy eating.
The battle for the consumer’s food dollar is a highly pitched one, and often consumers seem to be losing. But with books like Food Rules in which information is presented succinctly, honestly, and often very amusingly and memorably, thoughtful readers, aka thoughtful consumers, stand a better chance of making better choices and living healthier and therefore better lives.