Monday, October 12, 2009


The New York Times ran its Food Issue yesterday. One of the articles was by Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma) and titled “Rules to Eat By.”

Apparently Pollan put out the word via a NYT health blog asking readers for “their personal dietary dos and don’ts.” The collected results are coming out in January in a book called “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.”

Now you and I might think is a great way of getting other people to write your book for you, but Pollan says he’s doing it because “in matters of nutrition, culture still has a lot to teach us about How to choose, prepare and eat food.” Well, I wouldn’t stake my life on it, Mike.

What struck me about many of the examples he prints in the article and even more so about the ones online, is they’re incredibly joyless, humorless, pleasure-denying, sometimes downright punishing. Thus:

“No second helpings, no matter how scrumptious”

“Breakfast, you should eat alone. Lunch, you should share with a friend. Dinner, give to your enemy.” That’s from somebody Romanian grandma; oh those happy go lucky Romanians!

“Only eat food that Paleolithic hominids ate.”

“One of my top rules for eating comes from economics. The law of diminishing marginal utility reminds me that each additional bite is generally less satisfying that the previous bite.”

“Eat until you are seven tenths full and save the other three for hunger.”

“If I can’t make it, I won’t eat it.”

Jeez!! Lighten up, people.

I grew up in a working class home in the north of England. My mother was a terrible cook, and didn’t care or pretend to be anything else. Her, unwritten and unspoken rules, were as follows:

“If there aren’t potatoes on the plate then it isn’t a real meal.”

“Anything that comes in a can is better than anything that doesn’t.”

“If the instructions say it needs cooking for twenty minutes, then it’ll be even better if it’s cooked for an hour.”

It was these rules that turned me into a foodie, and an adventurous (rather than accomplished) amateur cook. After my mother’s cooking, anything seemed good.


  1. Agreed, Pollan's (people's) rules are thoroughly depressing. I'm willing to bet he did get "rules" like your mother's, but they didn't make it through the editing room. It's a silly project that will make even more people even more scared about finding pleasure in food. More depressing still, it will probably become yet another bestseller. Such is the power of the Pollanite.

  2. Incidentally Signe, I've just read Jonathan Safran Foer's book "Eating Anials" - he isn't exactly enamored of Pollan either.