Thursday, January 21, 2010

Only Planters, or: Michael Pollan and "Edible foodlike substances"

I have obviously deleted some crucial piece of code that allows me to use paragraphs. Sorry about the idiotic set out. I really do know what a paragraph looks like.  I really do admire Michael Pollan. I count The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defence of Food as some of my favourite, most life-changing books, and I love that he has managed to get issues of food quality, consumption and security firmly in the mainstream, middle-class eye. I love his pithy and simple mantra “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Although I obviously favour an eensy-weensy amendment which involves the subtraction of ‘mostly’ and the addition of ‘only’, in fact it’s this inclusionary approach which has allowed his message to be understood, accepted and adopted by a far wider range of people than just us Only Planters. 
In the NY Times, Mr Pollan once wrote a little blog entry asking for people’s food rules. They ranged from the popular “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise” to the amusing “Don’t eat anything bigger than your head”.
He has no released a little pocket sized book called “Food Rules – An Eater’s Manual” which presents 64 rules which elucidate “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.” A couple of rules are applicable only to the Mostly Planters, but the vast majority are applicable to everyone.
   A couple of sparkly highlights (Mr Pollan’s highlights are here):  
  • Avoid products that make health claims. Fruit’n’veg rarely need to, or have the resources to, make claims about their benefit to your heart/blood pressure/cholesterol. “Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign they have nothing valuable to say about your health”. Oh guffaw, Michael!
  • Only eat foods that will eventually rot.
  • Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans. And the related: Don’t ingest foods made in places where everyone is required to wear a surgical cap.
  • If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t. (One for the Only Planters!)
  • It’s not food if it’s called the same name in every language. Think Big Mac, Cheetos or Pringles. (But don’t think quinoa or hummus).
  • Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the colour of the (Ed:soy)milk.
  • Eat all the junk you want as long as you cook it yourself.
  • Pay more, eat less.
  • Eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored. Food is a costly antidepressant.
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.
  • Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does, and also: It’s not food if it arrived through your car window.
I find some sensible rules hard to follow. I eat when bored, and always have. I have told almost everyone I know that the day I found out that BBQ Shapes were vegan was the best day of my life. I don’t feel satiated unless I’ve had some simple carbs. And I just like big portions and am grumpy if I’m not full.     
But I don’t get food though my car window, or buy much food from the centre of the supermarket. I cook and I use ingredients with one leg (like a mushroom, as opposed to two like a chook or four like a lamb). I have few processed foods around, and they’re not used all that often. And I would wager that 95% of what I eat is food, not an “edible food-like substance”.   
If I had to come up with a few rules of my own (food-related rather than vegan, in which case I’d simply say “How could you kill and eat a living thing that feels happiness, fear and pain?”), I think I’d begin with:      
  • Don’t eat anything that requires packaging, unless it’s for sanitary or storage reasons (seriously, cous cous needs packaging and I don’t want anyone else’s grubby hands on my bread slices).
  • Flourescence is not found in nature’s larder.
  • If it has a made-up name, it’s a made-up food. Coco Pops, Froot Loops, luncheon meat, and (shudder) BBQ Shapes are not real things. Pasta is thing. Peanut butter is a description. Vegemite is an exception.
  • If the packaged, easy convenient version costs five times as much as the basic staple, it’s a rip off. Uncle Ben’s Rice is not rice.
  • Young children should be encouraged to enjoy cooking and eating and be allowed to express preferences, but there is a reason that an 8 year old is not allowed to drive a car. Neither should they be allowed to dictate the contents of the shopping trolley.
  • It is parents’ responsibility to provide their children with a wide range of healthy foods. Your child’s refusal to eat is a separate issue. Seitahn has an excellent, rhyming rule about how many mouthfuls her kids must try before they’re allowed to say they don’t like it which I can’t remember but which I hope she’ll repeat.
What are your rules? What would you say?   


Theresa said...

Silence of the yams! Ha! I like the 'eat as much junk as you want, as long as you cook it yourself' rule. I'll have to think about my own food rules...

steph said...

I just grabbed 'In Defence of Food' from the library yesterday, I'm looking forward to reading it! I've heard so much about Pollan's rules and ideas but never read any of the books so I'm hoping it will be interesting!

I totally use the 'eat as much junk so long as you made it' rule - I always worry about what sort of additives are in foods I buy, but if I bake it myself, then no worries, right? ;oP

Niki said...

Yeah I loved In Defense of Food too, especially cos it was cheap at Dirt Cheap Books.

The rules about Grandma not recognising it means its not food doesn't work for me. My Grandma would think tofu was insane. Or nutritional yeast. Or tempeh. Or Anything that wasn't meat and three veg!

BrisVegan said...

Great rules. I think I will chase down a copy of the book.