Why ‘Food Rules’ is Awesome, Part 2

I posted earlier this week about Food Rules, a book by Michael Pollan that offers 83 basic “rules” on what and how to eat for a healthier life. That post focused on the message and what I came away with. This post focuses on the book’s medium.

What do I mean by ‘medium’? I mean how the eponymous Food Rules are presented.

Here are some things the book employs in presentation that I admire, adore, and would love to or am already thinking about using myself someday:

  1. A concept-driven list. The 83 “rules” are all the items of a themed list, the driving idea being “eating better”. The introduction even offers a mantra that underlies all of the rules to follow: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Other books that do this include, among others, a personal favorite of mine: Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith, whose pages encourage alternately encourage readers to burn, tear, drag, throw stuff at and sew them.

    One of 83 of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules

  2. Clean copy. Dividing different ways to accomplish the same idea into small, numbered items (a collection of “rules”) is genius: it has the same effect as taking a long-term, hard-to-visualize goal and breaking it down into achievable increments. The idea becomes not only accessible in aesthetic (i.e., not an overwhelming amount of text), but in practice. We can work towards the ends one step, one idea, one page at a time.

    A page from Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith

  3. Marriage of word and image. Granted, the edition I picked up of Food Rules happened to be the illustrated one– it works. Maira Kalman’s paintings are colorful and engaging: a pleasure to view, and something more concrete to fix the ideas the book presents in our mind. Wreck This Journal does use some illustration, but relies more on reader engagement (i.e., commanding readers to poke holes in the page or spill something on it). It is my hope that a future project will combine the best of both image and reader engagement.

An illustration from Food Rules by Maira Kalman

All this said, of course, my gushing simply can’t do these books justice– go pick up a copy of Food Rules and Wreck This Journal see for yourself how awesome they are!

A Crumb on Food

If you’ve glanced at my Goodreads box lately, you may have noticed the addition of a book called Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It is a brilliant, brilliant collection: so much so that I intend to write an entirely different post on the book itself and the medium it’s presented in. This post harkens more to the message of the book.

While the book has many great messages (it is full of adages and other wisdoms), a common theme I come away with is this:

You are what you eat.

This is not a new saying. We hear it often: you are what you eat, do, see, watch, listen to; who you associate with.

But when you start thinking of this in terms of grains and vegetables vs. maltodextrin, ferric orthophosphate, high frutcose corn syrup, xanthan gum, disodium inosinate, tripolyphosphate and red 40 (none of which my word processor recognizes as words, nor would my great grandparents recognize as food), the message doesn’t just resonate. It rattles. I don’t know about you, but if I am what I eat (that is, if my body absorbs it and it impacts my life and health now as well as over time), I would much rather be an apple or spinach or brown rice than a synthesized chemical. You know– punctuated with cookies and doughnuts here and there.

We live in a time when heavily processed and/or sugar-, salt-, and fat-injected foods are abundant and often more affordable than their healthier, wholefood counterparts. I did not realize to just what degree until I read Rule #13 in Pollan’s book:

Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle

The rule elaborates: most stores are laid out the same, with fresh produce, meat, dairy, and baked goods around the edges and all the processed foods in between. Think about all of those center aisles. Think about how much of the store they take up. Are our diets like that, too? What does that say about us? And given that, is it any wonder, as Pollan says in his introduction, that

Populations that eat a so-called Western diet– generally defined as…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 the so called Western diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.


It gives one something to think about– and that’s just the introduction.

The book gives dozens of excellent pointers and pearls about what and how to eat from as many cultures and origins. Rather than tell you my favorite “rules,” I think I will just encourage you to pick it up– it’s a worthwhile read. But if I can leave you with anything on the topic, it would be this: your diet impacts your life. Make the most of it.