Critical Review of Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

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Michael Pollan emphasizes in his 2009 bestseller Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual that it is easy to eat healthy as long as we recall two basic facts. One, Americans’ diets consist of fast foods, processed foods, and meat, and we have the highest risk for heart disease and cancer. Pollan suggests this is not a coincidence. Two, populations, such as Central American Indians, have a low risk of heart disease and cancer because of their traditional diets. In other words, Pollan advises that the United States’ reliance on convenient food has made us unhealthy and obese, and we need to understand what we eat and how much to eat in order to be healthy. 

Pollan divides his book into three sections. Part I, “What Should I Eat?” teaches us to recognize what we eat. If we are able to distinguish the healthy food from the unhealthy, we have an easier time shopping. For example, Pollan maintains that novelty diets and food advertisements sway us to purchase unhealthy food. Instead, we should strive to eat foods we do not see in advertisements. Foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Essentially, the majority of our diets should be fruits and vegetables. In Part II, “What Kind of Food Should I Eat?” suggests we understand the types of food we eat. In other words, even if foods are in the same food group, it does not necessarily mean they are equally healthy. Therefore, if we understand the food we eat, we are able to make conscientious decisions. Lastly, Part III’s “How Should I Eat” emphasizes that our eating habits are just as important as what we eat. In order to eat healthily, we should have healthy relationships with our food. Ultimately, we treat our food with respect and we do not abuse it when we are bored or not hungry.  

Pollan offers quick suggestions, but the majority of his ideas are weak because they are well-known or common sense. For example, in Part I “What Should I Eat?” Pollan recommends shoppers to “Buy your snacks at the farmer’s market” (Pollan pg. 35). In other words, we should eat more fruits and vegetables. Likewise, in Part II Pollan reminds us to “Eat well-grown food from healthy soil” (Pollan pg. 67). According to Pollan, each section teaches us something new; however, I believe the categories are essentially the same. In this way, I did not learn anything new regarding the food I eat. In addition, I felt that tips such as “Eat less” were not worth the cost of the book, and I imagine other readers would feel as though they wasted their money (pg. 101). While the book is not expensive, it does not teach new nutritional information. 

On the other hand, Pollan’s strength is in the book’s length and tone. He offers a quick read and his tone is rather witty. Pollan, as a journalist, knows how to relate to a diverse readership. I found his slightly sardonic tone refreshing. For example, Pollan’s suggestion “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead” made me laugh. While I already knew this information, I found it engaged me as a reader because of its informal tone.  

I normally do not read books that discuss nutrition. I have found books that offer eating advice usually cover the same material, basically, just maintain a healthy lifestyle and you'll be alright. I am not convinced that Pollan’s book would encourage others to eat healthily. Instead, his base of readers may feel insulted that his ideas are so basic. I like short books, but I feel Pollan’s content would be better suited as a free brochure in the doctor’s office. To put it bluntly, I learned that I should eat my fruits and vegetables in kindergarten. I imagine the majority of his readers did too.

In conclusion, if Pollan wants to continue writing about nutrition, it seems he will have to come up with a new and fresh topic. Considering that he writes about food suggests he may have run out of ideas. While he is not a scientist, nor does he profess to be one, it may serve him well to invite a scientist to collaborate in order to lead readers to believe they are learning something new. 

Work Cited

Pollan, Michael. Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print