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Michael Pollan's Twelve Commandments for Serious Eaters

From his new book:In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto:

1. "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

2. "Avoid foods containing ingredients you can't pronounce."

3. "Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot."

4. "Avoid food products that carry health claims."

5. "Shop the peripheries of the supermarket; stay out of the middle."

6. "Better yet, buy food somewhere else: the farmers' market or CSA."

7. "Pay more, eat less."

8. "Eat a wide variety of species."

9. "Eat food from animals that eat grass."

10. "Cook, and if you can, grow some of your own food."

11. "Eat meals and eat them only at tables."

12. "Eat deliberately, with other people whenever possible, and always with pleasure."

I think it's the Chowhound credo too. Sounds good to me!

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  1. i've been preaching this stuff to my clients, friends & family for years - i'm tempted to forward this to everyone just to witness the collective groans & eye rolling :)

    the biggest problem is that the people who really need to hear - and would benefit most from - this advice are NOT the ones who read michael pollan!

    1 Reply
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      GHG, I am sorry if you have already said this, but what line of work are you in? I am imagining you are in healthcare as you mentioned clients... I love your tips and recipes!

    2. Most of these are common sense and do make sense (though I am not sure it is fair in these economic times to tell one to pay more, and I don't think it is necessarily true that one must pay more to follow the other guidelines...)

      From a health standpoint, number 11 is a mixed bag, IMO. On the one hand, eating only at tables helps one focus on the food and avoid mindless eating (and I am a terrible offender, as I do like to have dinner in front of the TV sometimes...)

      but what is the deal with eating meals? No snacks? No reaching for an orange to eat during a hike? No gelato? No egg tartlets in Chinatown? No oysters at the bar (or at the Hog Island stand at the Farmer's Market?) ....well, I could go on and on and on, but one gets the idea: that part doesn't sound like the Chowhound credo to me...

      9 Replies
      1. re: susancinsf

        It is a nice, well-intentioned list, but hardly a manifesto for all Chowhounds. I think a number of people will take exception to the notion "pay more and eat less" just as they are quibbling over "meal vs snack" eaten "sitting, not standing" ....

        1. re: Cheflambo

          Regarding #7, I think that Michael Pollan would argue we'd all pay less, in the long run, by focusing on why it costs more to shop at the farmers' markets than at the supermarket. Sure, there are economies of scale for the big producers, but the larger story is all of the hidden costs we pay for the supposedly cheaper food. We pay for the farm subsidies for the cheap corn, we pay for the costs of the environmental degradation from the fertilizer run-off, and we really pay through the hose for the diabetes from the massive overload of high fructose corn syrup in almost every product. By paying attention to the real costs of the food we eat, perhaps people will demand that the actual costs are really reflected in the sticker price, so that people can make more rational (and economical) decisions about their food.

          1. re: Cheflambo

            I don't know why, and I'm probably wrong, but my original interpretation of #7 was "support local"
            .......local produce, non chain restaurants, local grocers....all which tend to cost more.

            Choose that instead of masses amounts of low quality box store offerings.

            I'm not sure that is what he meant but that's how I prefer to look at it.

            1. re: MSK

              I took him to mean "pay more, eat less" to refer to meats - that we should not eat such meat-centric dishes, and that we should pay attention to buying meats from humane, local sources.

              1. re: MSK

                I took it to mean "don't supersize" - skip the huge portions of poor-quality food and have smaller portions of the good stuff.

                1. re: MSK

                  Funny how so many got a different meaning. I took it to mean pay for quality, not quantity. In fact, the first thing that came to mind was, "Better a very small USDA prime steak than a porterhouse from WalMart!" That I agree with! Just can't afford kobe beef. Well, I could if they'd sell it in smaller amounts than a pound. "I'd like a half ounce steak, please." '-)

                  1. re: MSK

                    You are completely right. In my humble opinion that is :).

                    It saddens me to know that we feel perfectly okay spending so much money on video games, gadgets, brands, electronics and many other items but when it comes to Food, (the thing that enables us to LIVE) we are not interested where it comes from AND we want to spend as little as possible and eat like pigs.

                    Food is the most important thing, the thing that keeps us alive and beautiful, the thing that brings families and friends and even countries together, the thing that binds us as a species and we should give it the love and respect it deserves.

                    Pay more and eat less is not a "money issue" as if you are in fact eating less it will even itself out monetarily. As MSK says, it is about making responsible decisions, choosing quality over quantity and choosing it close to home.

                    1. re: oana

                      I know too many people who are care more about the quality of gas for their car (shun the cheap stuff on the belief it's bad) than the food they eat and what they are willing to pay for it.

                      1. re: Leonardo

                        Perfect example! It is just mind boggling is it not?
                        I am not sure whether it starts from kids not being taught to respect life in general (which would include themselves and the world they live in and are responsible for) or if it is just that as adults they just no longer care for some reason ... sad stuff ...

              2. I think everyone would have their own opinions and ideas about what a serious eater is, which may also be different in different parts of the world.

                Not meant to be comprehesive or critical:

                re: 2 -- I 'm bad at language, and there are often everyday ingredients from foreign cultures that I can't pronounce (or pronounce properly). Certain types of fruits from Latin/South America for example.

                re: 9 -- that would biased against essentially all seafood, and it means no jamon iberico from acorn fed pigs.

                re: 11 -- that means no street food from carts, which are a big tradition in many cultures.

                1. 3. "Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot."

                  So, what exactly does Pollan have against Space Food Sticks? I had a special hole drilled in my astronaut's helmet just to accommodate them, and now he's telling me they're bad for me?!


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    My first thought about #3 was that honey is an obvious exception, which doesn't invalidate the rule.

                  2. I'll buy into 9 out of 12 of Pollan's food Commandments, which, at 75%, eclipses my earlier endorsement of 7 of those older Commandments.

                    1. My grandmother would never recognize tofu as food and a dear friend's grandmother told us bananas were poisonous. The thought of our eating chicken feet would horrify her. Flax, where I come from, is something you grow to sell to the companies that produce house paint. I've never been able to pronounce pho without eliciting laughter. Whole grains, teas, spices are often in the middle of the grocery store--at least, where I currently do most of my shopping. Salt doesn't rot. I guess pork, poultry, most wild game, including river, lake and sea-dwelling creatures, would be out of the question--which pretty much limits my ability to eat a "wide variety" of animal species. Our farmers markets are pretty well buttoned up and will be until about late May since the ground has been frozen solid now for about 2 1/2 months. But, maybe that's not so bad because I can still "pay more" to shop at Whole Foods, rather than at the seasonally available Farmers Markets where I pay less. I guess a picnic on a blanket in the park would be strictly off-limits?

                      Sorry to be so obnoxious, but the first time I heard this "don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" it immediately got my back up. How well does he know my grandmother, or many of our grandmothers who may never have traveled far from the small towns in which they lived? Which generation of grandmothers is he referring to anyway? I understand Pollen's message and, for the most part agree with it, but I actually feel like he's simultaneously overcomplicating and oversimplifying his message with his overly clever credo and his pithy "Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables." Also, I think he's very coastal-centric. Has he spent any time in the Upper Midwest with its ultra short growing season, aside from visiting industrial pig and corn farms? Perhaps he should spend time dining at the farmers' tables.

                      Really, my rule of thumb is "beware of rules of thumb."

                      I actually have IDOF on reserve at the library and, maybe, I'll feel less talked down to when I actually read this information in context, but, everything I'd heard in interviews and reviews and so on hasn't really made me warm to his attempts at turning his message into a soundbite. Or a dozen soundbites.


                      10 Replies
                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        I also really disagree with #1. Do I need to have a Japanese grandmother to enjoy sushi?

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Maybe it should be "don't eat anything that wouldn't be recognized as food by SOMEbody's grandparents."

                          1. re: jlafler

                            Yes, there would have been a way for him to edit the grandma commandment to make his point even more clear, (but, for instance, even then, it doesn't define what "generation" of grandma, even if you're just referring to the U.S., he means--what if you're 18 and your grandmother is 46 and grew up on Kraft Mac & Cheese, Top Ramen, Wonderbread and Oscar Meyer Bologna--are those okay to eat ? or by "grandma" is he thinking the grandma of an American Baby Boomer?)

                            But, really, this is what I meant by he's simultaneously oversimplifying and overcomplicating his message. Almost every one of his commandments can easily be interpreted to mean the opposite of what he intended, depending on the situation. I think he's trying to say, "Don't eat a lot of overly-processed foods with a lot of preservatives in them." ( Fantastic advice, I think.) It would have been so much more straight forward if he said that, instead of the excessively clever first three commandments.

                            I wonder if he went to press too soon with this book and his half-baked, on-the-surface witty, imprecise commandments.


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              "I wonder if he went to press too soon with this book and his half-baked, on-the-surface witty, imprecise commandments." Whew TDQ! that's a pretty harsh criticism considering you haven't actually READ the book yet.

                              I finished IDOF a week ago and I can assure you that those "Commandments" do not appear in the overly simplified form that the OP presents us with. They appear at the end of the book and each "commandment" actually has at least a few sentences explaining what each one means. Further, the roughly 185 fascinating pages one reads to get to that point are what make Pollan's "commandments" possible to be presented in such a concise form at the end. Believe me, when you get there, you will understand exactly what Pollan means by #1, as well as the remaining 11.

                              That being said, after following the press leading up to the release of this book, I didn't feel like I really needed to actually read the book. Based on the way I eat and feed my family, I thought it would be like preaching to the choir. I did read it though and must say that this book is a fabulous de-bunking of the myths foisted upon us by the "Food Scientists" and the rush of the food processors to capitalize on their bogus findings - all much to the detriment of our national health. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

                              Hope you don't have to wait too long to read it...as of this morning there were 22 copies of the book in the Rhode Island library system and 90 holds on it.

                              1. re: clamscasino

                                Yeah, it's harsh and like I said, maybe I'll change my mind once I actually read the book, but these are things he's saying in interviews, too, so he shouldn't be any less accountable for his ideas if he's putting them out there for public consumption.


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Don't forget that the main purpose of all these interviews is to publicize the book. He wants you to buy it, therefore he's not going to give it all away for free on NPR.

                                  1. re: clamscasino

                                    I'm not listening to him on NPR, but reading the interviews he gave the NYT, the San Francisco Chronicle and a couple of other publications. It's all well and good to make a buck, but, in the meantime the public is latching onto his oh-too-clever, overly simplistic sound bites. Personally, I just think that does more harm than good. The people who are really going to read his book, you know, the "serious" eaters, already know this stuff.


                            2. re: jlafler

                              would anybody's granny recognize foam?

                              or would she try to skim it?

                              1. re: alkapal

                                LOL! Thanks - best giggle I've had all day! My guess would be "skim it".
                                Would be a shame, I've had some amazing foam before!

                              2. re: jlafler

                                This is what happens when people try to get away from a message. They over analyze text and willfully lose the meaning of the whole message.
                                We all know what we should be eating; most of us just do not want to put in the effort anymore. We are a generation that expects everything at the speed of light and with minimal effort. This is the reason that people comment on things without even bothering to read the subject matter or inform themselves over an above what they have been able to Google. This is why we are on the Food mess that we are in today.

                                It would help to read the actual content to be able to formulate an informed opinion.

                            3. I think "Commandments" is stupid choice of word.

                              FWIW, #9 clearly refers to mammals (not fish) raised on what they should be eating.... out on the pastures. I can groove to that one.

                              1. Since we're referencing religious terms for food, I'd rather worship Barry Glassner's less dogmatic The Gospel of Food: Everything You Think You Know About Food is Wrong.

                                  1. re: RicRios

                                    Oh my Grandmother would recognize wine!

                                    1. re: RicRios

                                      Well, if wines were also considered, #3 would rule out madeira et al., given their immortality.

                                      1. In all seriousness its all basic common sense. It is nice to be reminded of it from time to time.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: peachtart

                                          It's a tough call but like all 'statements' you have to take it with a grain of salt and make it adaptable to your life. The family of 4 on 1 salary (low-middle income) is probably not going to be buying arugula at the Farmer's Market. But it it is possible to eat healthy on a budget - just not necessarily always local. Life is about happy mediums. Commandments are not. And wine is an absolute requirement (my Grandmother drank it until she died at 105 years old... but she's French... She also ate goose fat, lardons, and tons of things that many people would shrink away from in North America!)

                                          1. re: kawarthagirl

                                            In "grandma's day" the family of 4 on 1 salary budget like would have had a garden and grown their own arugula!

                                            1. re: firecooked

                                              Good point... too bad crappy apartments in Toronto don't have that! :)

                                              1. re: firecooked

                                                In "grandma's day" they probably didn't have herds of 25 deer going through their backyard daily, making growing a garden a very difficult and (at least initially) a very expensive proposition.

                                          2. Some tongue in cheek comments:

                                            1 - Lower East side food would lead to 20mg of Lipitor
                                            2 - But jfood wants to try more SE Asian cooking, i.e Pho.
                                            3 - Ok this is a good one
                                            4 - Everything at some point has a health claim
                                            5 - Fresh foods are normally around the edges, hard to argue
                                            6 - Jfood would starve because there are none in his neighborhood
                                            7 - Just eat less and better
                                            8 - Agreed
                                            9 - Subset of 8, but jfood likes veal
                                            10 - food does not grow well in snow, but in the summer you should at least try, if you can. But the the deer and raccons eat the food, and since thet eat grass as well (see #9) should jfood kill them and throw them on the grill?
                                            11 - Nah. Tailgating is a good example.
                                            12 - Last phrase is the CH credo

                                            Now a few more:
                                            1 - Do not eat something because others do. eat what you think is good
                                            2 - Try a wide variety of foods
                                            3 - Try various cuisines
                                            4 - Understand that people do not like things you like, since you do not like things other people like.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: jfood

                                              Re jfood's number 10: I can't speak to raccoons, but the only problem I see with the deer is that grilling may not be the best way to prepare.... :-)

                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                how about swapping smoking for grilling? And the raccons in CT are the size of German Shepards recently.

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  I find that my 2 Great Pyrenees do a great job of keeping the deer, bears and bunnies out of my garden. Unfortunately, last summer, they tried to chase a skunk out of the garden! They both smelled so bad I could taste it!

                                              2. re: jfood

                                                I agree with jfood's responses, but really my problem is with the fundamental problem of the notion that guidelines( for anything serious) can be winnowed to 10 or 12 cute/clever sayings (which in this case could have been said better in more straightforward language, i.e; say what you mean). basically I see these as penetrating glimpses into the obvious.

                                              3. I have found #1 a very good place to start conversations with my parents (born in the 30's) -- what did they eat growing up? I found out that Mom's family raised their own chickens and rabbits (in addition to the garden that I knew about). My dad was in charge of the victory garden at his house, and grew lots of potatoes. They ate all sorts of cuts of cheap meat, including organ meat. Eating out was a rarity. It's surprising how much our family diet changed by the 60's... we still ate more home-prepared meals (including fresh vegetable) than most, but certainly no rabbit or brains! And the garden consisted of a few tomato plants.

                                                1. Every single criticism, objection, and quibble raised in this thread is addressed by Pollan in the text of the book. Sound bytes are great at getting ideas into the minds of the general public, but they are not meant to substitute a thorough, well reasoned argument.

                                                  Speaking as a food-politics junkie, I learned a *lot* while reading IDOF. Like many of you, I had already reached all of Pollan's conclusions before I read this book. However, the reasoning behind Pollan's conclusions - the well researched and well argued exploration of the history, politics, and science of food and nutrition in the United States - is why this book is great. These arguments have never, to my knowledge, been posed by a journalist before, and they are widely unknown amongst the food cognoscenti.

                                                  1. I'm really not understanding the problem people are having with #1. All he means is to eat "real" food, not chem lab creations. I think he's assuming thatyour granny's kitchen isn't equipped with a variety of centrifuges, etc. His recs are common sense. Of course he has to simplify his message--you can't get overly in depth in a short interview or newspaper article.

                                                    Firecooked's comments are a very interesting look at the changes our diets and menus have undergone. We've expanded in many areas (e.g. exploring new non-European and lesser known Euro. cuisines, we are willing to try new ingredients and new techniques), but in other respects we seem to be adopting a shrinking diet (in terms of ingredients, not quantity!) Like Firecooked examples of no rabbits and no brains. Of the change in home gardening. My parents (European immigrants, born late 1930s) seem to have been "closer" to the origins of their meals. My dad, who grew up in the country, had a family who butchered hogs, grew most vegetables, made their own sauerkraut, raised chickens and rabbits. And they weren't farmers! My mom's family grew up in the city, but they did have a small garden. They regularly went to the woods to gather berries and chanterelles. I don't grow a damn thing except herbs (I dislike gardening). But the funny thing is, my mom (who never liked cooking) just took to the convenience foods of the 1960s and 1970s. I practically grew up on Chef Boyardee, packaged cereals (my favorites were Quisp and Quake), Tang, Space Food Sticks, Hamburger and Tuna Helper, iceberg lettuce with bottled dressing. I could eat all that crap but for some reason, they wouldn't let me watch The Monkees on Tv :-)

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: nofunlatte

                                                      My personal problem with number 1 is the fact that my grandparents and great grandparents still lived in the 20th century, and ate many "bad" foods and still lived to a ripe old age. Wholewheat bread and pasta and brown rice weren't considered healthful foods. They were just considered inferior foods and the white versions were standard. Despite the doomsayers, there is very little diabetes in my family.

                                                      1. re: Avalondaughter

                                                        Me too. I was very close to my great-grandmother, who died in the 1980s, when I was 12 years old. She and my great-grandfather (who lived even longer, and died in '93) ate lard their whole lives. They drank wine of questionable quality, used pork fat as flavoring for chicken, beans, and who knows what else, and ate plenty of white bread (never "American" bread, though). They ate fried breaded veal like it was going out of style, and habitually drowned their green vegetables in olive oil (NOT extra virgin, btw). My great-grandmother drank espresso well into her '80s, and baked at least two pound cakes per week. I don't think they ever heard of "whole wheat pasta".

                                                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                                                          And if you read the book, your grandparent's (seemingly unhealthy) diet is potentially more healthful than the over-processed, over engineered, nutritionally-limited diet we're eating today. Pollan's point is that we think science has deduced exactly what constitutes a healthful diet when, in fact, quite the opposite might be (and probably is) true.

                                                    2. While I recognize the need to simplify for a sound bite, a extra words would have clarified things

                                                      1. "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."
                                                      Like HFCS

                                                      Otherwise it is too broad and relies on the smaller food universe available to a good many of our grandmothers.

                                                      2. "Avoid foods containing ingredients you can't pronounce."
                                                      Like dimethylpolysiloxane (in a McDonald's snack wrap)

                                                      Otherwise it limits a lot of ethnic cuisine

                                                      3. "Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot."
                                                      Like soda

                                                      Otherwise it eliminates things like dried beans or honey (still good after being found in Egyptian tombs) And really ... everything goes bad ... even Twinkies

                                                      4. "Avoid food products that carry health claims."
                                                      LIke low fat cookies

                                                      Otherwise it could mean produce, high fiber veggies, milk, green tea, etc, etc, etc

                                                      5. "Shop the peripheries of the supermarket; stay out of the middle."
                                                      Avoiding processed foods

                                                      Otherwise you are eliminating items like canned fish, olive oil, etc. In my Raley's organic food and produce is in the center of the market. Also, bakeries are often on the peripheries.

                                                      6. "Better yet, buy food somewhere else: the farmers' market or CSA."
                                                      Clear, but not always practicle.

                                                      7. "Pay more, eat less."
                                                      Avoid fast food value menus

                                                      8. "Eat a wide variety of species."
                                                      Clear enough

                                                      9. "Eat food from animals that eat grass."
                                                      Avoid factory animals

                                                      Otherwise, could mean no pork ... pigs don't eat grass, do they? What about chickens? Chickens don't eat grass.

                                                      10. "Cook, and if you can, grow some of your own food."
                                                      Clear enough

                                                      BUT, the soil in some neighborhoods can be contaminated with chemicals like lead.

                                                      11. "Eat meals and eat them only at tables."
                                                      No mindless snacking in front of a tv or computer.

                                                      Otherwise. it could eliminate healthy small snacks.

                                                      12. "Eat deliberately, with other people whenever possible, and always with pleasure."
                                                      Clear enough

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                        Actually, pigs and chickens do eat grass so they do qualify as good to eat. We raise hundreds of pigs on pasture in northern Vermont. Our pigs eat hundreds of thousands of pounds of hay in the winter and graze about 70 acres of pastures in the summers. Pasture represents the vast majority of their diet and most of that is grass. It saves us from having to buy commercial hog feed or grain and it produces a better quality pork. Letting your pigs graze pasture will make them taste better, up their Omega-3 Fatty Acid profile (the good stuff - we're doing research on this with a lab) and make them less expensive to raise.

                                                        1. re: pubwvj

                                                          Hmm, my hounds eat grass also.

                                                          I guess that puts them on Pollan's, "OK to eat" list as well...

                                                      2. The simple Chowhound credo: Eat what tastes good.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                          Eeeeks! Wait, there's a CREDO??? Nobody told me that when I signed up!
                                                          * apologetically resigns her Chowhound membership*

                                                        2. re #5:

                                                          doritos are not on the periphery of the supermarket.

                                                          therefore, must.....reject.....manifesto.

                                                          oh, and re "pay more, eat less", i'm waiting for my subsidy check from mr. pollan.

                                                          1. This thread is really annoying me. While the OP tried to simplify the conclusions Pollan reached in his book, many replies are just trying to be difficult and combative and are simply jumping to the most simple conclusions based on a desire to be argumentative.

                                                            What Pollan actually calls these are rules for escaping the Western diet (specifically processed food and factory farmed produce and meats) and simple rules to help Westerners start redefining our relationship with food - including helping us to understand that engineered, processed "food" is not food. Each of these "rules" has paragraphs of info that follows that adds context to the headings.

                                                            Here’s hoping I am not breaking any copyright laws:

                                                            1. Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

                                                            Taken literally, half of what I eat wouldn't qualify. However, while my great grandmother wouldn't recognize sushi, she would certainly recognize rice and fish. Tofu has existed for thousands of years (good), tofu hot dogs have not (bad). Taken in context, I believe many 'hounds would agree with this.

                                                            2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup.

                                                            This, again, in context is a plea to avoid processed foods. That doesn't mean to avoid the lentil soup I made last night which included 8 or 9 ingredients.

                                                            3. Avoid food products that make health claims [on its package].

                                                            Once again, processed foods. He speaks at length about how processed foods are manipulated through enrichment to add the latest nutritional craze (oat bran in the 80's, folic acid today). Foods that need to shout health claims from it's packaging is, more than likely, not actually healthy.

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

                                                            OK, so my supermarket has Oscar Meyer bologna on the periphery - does that mean I should eat that? No. But this is where the whole foods - fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, dairy. Yes there are processed foods on the periphery. Limit your intake of them. To the point of the healthy products in the interior of the store, 2 of the 3 cans of tuna I have in my cabinet contain soy. My pickles contain HFCS. My jarred olives have lactic acid and preservatives. All processed foods. I (and he) are not saying that there are not healthy foods elsewhere in the supermarket, but if it is canned, jarred or boxed, the chances are high that it had been tampered with. But since HFCS has insidiously made it's way into previously healthy products (yogurt), he suggests a more radical rule:

                                                            5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. Farmer's markets, CSAs, local farms. I am lucky to have access to these options and the means to pay the (sometimes) higher prices. While this is not true of everyone, it is a call to make this kind of food more accessible.

                                                            6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. We need plants to survive, we don't need meat. Like many cultures, we need to make meat a side dish and start eating more of the vitamin-rich plant foods.

                                                            7. You are what your food eats, too. Food animals are fed to ensure they grow faster and bigger, produce more milk and eggs at the expense of the nutritional value of the final product. Wouldn't you rather eat something that's been raised to ensure the highest quality product? The point of eating is to nourish, not just to stuff our bellies full.

                                                            8. Eat like an omnivore. The average American eats far less variety that they did a generation or two ago. Our diets are full or wheat, corn and soy, leading to nutritional deficiencies. The greater variety of species we eat, the healthier we will be.

                                                            9. Eat well-grown foods from healthy soil. Same argument as above - produce grown with the goal of better nutrition, not higher yields, prettier product, or longer shelf-life.

                                                            10. Eat wild foods when you can.

                                                            11. Eat more like the French, Italians, Japanese, Indians, Greeks... (traditional diets)

                                                            12. Regard non-traditional foods with skepticism.

                                                            13. Don’t look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet. It’s not the olive oil, the red wine, the fish, the seaweed, or any other single nutrient. It is, more than likely, the combination of whole foods and lifestyle that make these traditional diets healthier that the Western diet.

                                                            14. Have a glass of wine with dinner. Salut!

                                                            15. Pay more, eat less.

                                                            Americans enjoy the cheapest food on the planet. How do you think that's been achieved? Low quality, subsidized, over-processed, nutritionally bankrupt garbage. We've stripped the soil through factory farming and chemical manipulation. We've changed the quality of our meats through factory farming, selective breeding, pharmaceutical manipulation, and unnatural diets. We produce more food that we actually need, yet we are overweight and undernourished. Cheap processed food (including factory produce and meat) is costing us our health. Is it wrong to advise people to buy lesser quantities of higher-quality food? The upside of this is a thinner, fitter, better nourished population.

                                                            16. Eat meals. Constant snacking (on processed foods) are making us fat and unhealthy.
                                                            17. Do all of your eating at a table.
                                                            18. Don’t get fuel from the same place your car does.
                                                            19. Try not to eat alone.

                                                            Simply put, for humans, eating is more than just a biological necessity. We are social creatures for whom meals are a bonding ritual. Traditional cultures still recognize this. By ritualizing meals again, we would enjoy them more, and possible eat less.

                                                            20. Consult your gut. Eat with your gut, not with your eyes.
                                                            21. Eat slowly. Eat less.
                                                            22. Cook, and if you can, plant a garden.

                                                            You still need to read the book to get the full story, but at least, for the sake of this conversation, you have a little more context.

                                                            20 Replies
                                                            1. re: Divamac

                                                              Very nicely put, Divamac!

                                                              I especially like #18.

                                                              1. re: coney with everything

                                                                Divamac, that was probably me being overly argumentative, and I apologize for that, but I was just trying to demonstrate that these "commandments" are too oversimplified for anyone to actually use to guide his or her actions--and I've had them repeated to me by various people (based on their having read the book or heard an interview) over the past couple of weeks as if they were a kind of mantra. That just makes me shudder.

                                                                While the book itself may be well-written with the ideas fully fleshed out, we live in complex times and the solution to most problems aren't so black and white as a handful of sound bites.

                                                                Every chowhound I've ever met has been incredibly well-informed, thoughtful and discriminating. I trust chowhounds to make reasonable and well-informed choices about what they eat, when and how. I think IDOF is probably a worthy addition to every chowhound's reading list (as I said before, I'm on the waiting list at my local library--not because I'm cheap, but because I believe sharing rather than buying books is kinder to our planet) and then they can embrace what makes sense to them to inform their choices in the future.

                                                                But, please don't just follow a bunch of "commandments"--use everything you know to guide your choices.


                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                  The OP's commandments are like notes in the margin, reminding him what this or that section is about. The background, the reasoning, the uncertainties are all missing from the pithy notes, but if they were included, you'd have the whole book. So please don't criticize the list for being superficial or incomplete, because they are meant to be reminders. If you haven't read the book, you don't know what to be reminded of, and you think the note is the full message. It isn't.

                                                                  I think a much better target of discussion is what he calls 'nutritionism'. Nutritionism is the belief that food can be broken down into essential components, each with a certain effect on the body, and then reassembled to make, say, a Twinkie. Thinking about this failure of science (and about our over-reliance on experts to tell us what we should eat) was a major insight for me. The motto 'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.' is just a reminder of the alternative to nutritionism.

                                                              2. re: Divamac

                                                                So Pollans 12 "commandments" (as defined in the OP Title) are really 12 words:

                                                                Healthy non-processed foods and wine with friends, while seated at a table.

                                                                Can't say that anyone on these boards would totally disagree with the thesis, but the execution may be a bit Walden-esque in today's non utopian world.

                                                                But jfood also does not believe a little of the contra-foods are all that bad every now and then. Likewise many on these boards (jfood included) likes his cake, ice cream and cookies, and they are not the healthiest, the ingredients are sold in the middle of the store and grandma would recognize a good babka.

                                                                So although these are nice guidelines, jfood can't get all the way to "commandments."

                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                  Actually, it's 7 words: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.

                                                                  Cake, ice cream and cookies are great. Head out to a local bakery or sweets shop that makes things the way grandma did - with real cane sugar and butter. Avoid the mediocre-tasting crap at the supermarket that contains HFCS, preservatives, and hydrogenated oil.

                                                                  And Pollan would object to your use of "healthy" in your 12 words. Best to eat a traditional diet of real foods, and not focus on what is "healthy" and "unhealthy."

                                                                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                    YES! Exactly! I am going to eat ice cream and cake, but I make both and know what goes into them.

                                                                2. re: Divamac

                                                                  Thanks very much for the context, it's helpful for understanding the big picture. On the other hand, there are many exceptions to the rule, and the best strategy is perhaps to be critical thinkers and eaters. Rather follow any specific rule, is it probably more important to understand the spirit/rationale behind it. Otherwise, one might point out that there's a gas station in Boston that makes respectable Mexican.

                                                                  At the same time, it's worthwhile to understand that not all chowhounds come from a Western culture. Street food is huge in certain parts of the world, and eating while walking from stall to stall between, during and after meals is part of the culture. The table is not indispensable.

                                                                  Eating for health and eating for deliciousness does not always overlap entirely, and we all have different priorities and trade-offs. That's what being a chowhound is about -- eating and exploring critically -- for deliciousness.

                                                                  1. re: limster

                                                                    Well said, limster. As far as commandments go, it never hurts to use common sense / your own brains instead of following anything blindly.

                                                                  2. re: Divamac

                                                                    again the point being, why not say- eat healthy food, not processed junk and be thoughtful about what you eat and how it is grown or produced. Enjoy eating and do not do it mindlessly. that's pretty much the whole 12 in 3 coherent lines. says just about the same thing but isn't clever/cute and semi misleading.

                                                                    1. re: chazzerking

                                                                      Actually, the premise "eat healthy food" is contrary to Pollan's conclusion. Focusing on which foods are "healthy" or "nutritious" is one of the fallacies of the Western Diet. Best to eat foods that are traditional, and let others worry about what is "healthy."

                                                                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                        Yes, there are lots of contradictions lurking amid the commandments. Typical.

                                                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                          if one wants to eat a healthy cow or chicken, that's fine. but humans eat healthful food.

                                                                          sorry.....a pet peeve.

                                                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse


                                                                            Wow, if that is his conclusion, then jfood will take a Snagglepuss and exit stage left. If jfood ate the "traditional" foods from his heritage, he would need 40mg of lipitor a day to offset the traditional fat, and hopefully live longer that his grandparents.

                                                                            Thanks for the clarrification.

                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                              I think the issue for Pollan is more what he calls "nutritionism," an emphasis on the value of specific nutrients in foods, rather than the healthfulness of foods themselves, or of overall eating patterns.

                                                                              I think what he mainly objects to is the ideology that allows companies to label a sugary cereal "heart healthy" because it's low in saturated fat, or a radio call-in show about healthy eating that devolves into a discussion of what specific ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins is best, as though that were the key to healthy eating.

                                                                              1. re: jlafler

                                                                                Thanks J, now jfood understands the "common sense" comments that are all through this thread. Good for him if he can sell a book based on common sense, jfood wishes he had the free time to do that and make some extra dough and he is glad he reads Mysteries and Historicals.

                                                                        2. re: Divamac

                                                                          Oh, and when in Wisconsin, do not pass up the fresh (within a couple of hours old) cheese curds they sell at the gas stations in every small town.


                                                                          1. re: Divamac

                                                                            Thank you! I, too, was getting pretty annoyed with this thread. If you read the book, you would understand the context in which Pollan made these statements. I think a large part of why some people here as a problem with these statements is that the OP labeled it as "commandments." I believe that's OP's terms, not Pollan's.

                                                                            And hasn't anybody heard about common sense? True, you may find Smuckers Magic Top ice cream topping in the supermarket aisles, but that's not what Pollan is trying to get you to eat.

                                                                            1. re: Divamac

                                                                              Excellent synopsis. Too often people want simple sound bites but until you understand what's behind the sound bites, you can't understand the issue. It's like trying to use a math formula but not understanding it, just plugging in the numbers. It's not always going to work and you need to think about it before "owning" it.

                                                                              1. re: Divamac

                                                                                I couldn't agree more. Thanks so much for your thoughtful post!

                                                                                1. re: Divamac

                                                                                  "We need plants to survive, we don't need meat. Like many cultures, we need to make meat a side dish and start eating more of the vitamin-rich plant foods."

                                                                                  Not true. You can thrive on a meat diet. There are cultures that do. There are also things that are extremely difficult to get in your diet without meat in certain climates unless you do long distance shipping (really bad) or supplements (same thing). Best is omnivore and that includes plants and meat. In both cases, choose those that were grown well.

                                                                                2. Why are we harshing on him???? He is saying what we are saying! Are we jealous that he puts together a good book that can be distilled into a few strong messages and he gets paid for it? What???

                                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                    "He is saying what we are saying!"

                                                                                    Exactly, Sam. I wondered why all the debate when in reality he has written in published book form what we talk about every day.

                                                                                    1. re: Gio

                                                                                      Ditto. You can split hairs about "exceptions" to his "commandments," which may be overly "clever," but at the end of the day, don't we all "get" what he's getting at? No one seriously believes he advises against eating pho, do you??

                                                                                      1. re: jennywinker

                                                                                        "Clever" get things heard. I loved IDOF.


                                                                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                      Actually, no. He is not saying what a lot of the people on these boards are saying.

                                                                                      For those who would like to read a little of the book, here's the link to Amazon.

                                                                                      The book has a 'search inside feature' where you can read the start of the book and use the 'surprise me' option to read a few other parts.

                                                                                      For the many things that are in sync with chowhounds ... for a food-savy crowd, they are old news. For example, the business about shopping the peripherals of the market.is so old news that even markets have started changing the patterns of their markets.

                                                                                      I KNOW the reasons for that statement though.

                                                                                      Does anyone need to have been a food consumer more than a decade to know that nutritional claims are bogus?

                                                                                      However, Pollen is funny ... I like his calling health additives "what in a more enlightened age would have been called adulterants' ... and ... "the year of eating oat bran - also known as 1988".

                                                                                      But again, after having gone thru too many years of the health-claim of the year I think most of us are skeptical of the latest and greatest claims.

                                                                                      Yes, a good many of us eat at farmers markets but it has less to do with health and more to do with that magic word on this board 'deliciousness'.

                                                                                      By default many of us eat a variety of species and foods, not for health benefits, but for ... deliciousness.

                                                                                      A good many of Chowhounds would rather pay more to buy a small piece of parmesan cheese than whatever it is that comes out of that familiar green can because it tastes better.

                                                                                      On the other hand, there's often more deliciousness in the street vendor which is all about paying less.

                                                                                      And while 'cook at home' is good advice ... come on .. Chowhound has one board about home cooking with every other board about eating out ... but that means eating out deliciously ... there's only one chain board as well.

                                                                                      So Pollen's focus is on what is beneficial to eat where chowhounds focus is on what is delicious to eat. Those two ideas aren't the same.

                                                                                      That is not to say Pollen dismisses deliciousness. Love that he calls low carb pasta what it really is ... "imitation spaghetti" ... and who would buy THAT if there were real truth in labeling. He discusses how our meats have been reengineered to be lower fat and less tasty.

                                                                                      Anyway, the high level manifesto, for the most part, is something most of us know and as you said, for the most part what we agree with.

                                                                                      That being said, the excerpts I read are interesting from the point of how America got where it got. Maybe the research will help lift the rock of the food industry and shine some light on what is crawling underneath ... which is an industry based on special interest and profit and has little to do with health ... or deliciousness.

                                                                                      But we all knew that. Nice to have some research to back it up though.

                                                                                      So I'll go with the Chowhound manifesto of eating deliciously.

                                                                                      What good is life if there isn't pleasure in it ... and no matter how we eat, no one lives forever ... who knows if I might get mowed down in the parking lot of my farmers market by someone aggressively looking for a spot to park so they can buy their 'leaves'. All that sensible eating for nothing.

                                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                                        My favorite funny line of Pollan's had to do with "the silence of the yams."

                                                                                        1. re: rworange

                                                                                          Sorry, rw, but you really can't get the premise of a book by reading excerpts from Amazon.com. Pollan's whole point is to eat delicious, traditional foods and not "beneficial" foods. He believes that the focus on "nutritional" or "beneficial" food has contributed to many of the problems in the Western Diet. He repeatedly states that he does not believe food should be viewed as medicine. He points out that those who fixate on "health" or "nutrition" often end up with a worse diet than those who eat traditionally. He wants people to eat deliciously, and he understands that "real" food is almost always more delicious than "edible foodlike substances."

                                                                                          He's got no beef with street food, either. In fact, I don't think he really thought about it while writing the book, because he never mentions it. His comment on eating at the table is more of a criticism of the massive amount of snacking that Americans do.

                                                                                          I agree with you that some of Pollan's conclusions are common sense. However, he provides the background and research to prove those conclusions so that they become irrefutable and not merely intuitive. I've got to say - I'm a pretty savvy foodie and some of Pollan's research blew my mind.

                                                                                          I think it is significant that all of the critics on this thread are people who haven't actually read the book.

                                                                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                            In traditional Chinese culture, food is viewed as medicine, and even everyday ingredients are thought to have different nutritional properties or exert certain physiological effects. Whether that's been upheld by peer-reviewed research is another story.

                                                                                            1. re: limster

                                                                                              I don't think he has any problem with that kind of thinking, limster; in fact, he seems to appreciate traditional food cultures, with their wisdom built up over centuries, as compared to the young science of nutrition. (My caveat would be that many food traditions developed for people who were doing a lot more physical labor than most of us do, and there are other problems with going back to a pre-modern way of eating.)

                                                                                              1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                When Pollan was writing this book, he was writing from the Western point of view. Limster is right about how Chinese culture views food as medicine. Every single ingredient, no matter how pedestrian, is said to have certain effects on certain organ systems. Jlalfer, I agree with you about the context that these food traditions were developed from. In addition to the different lifestyles our ancestors followed, there are differences between ethnic groups on how we can handle certain foods -- eg. difference between East Asians and Northern Europeans on how they handle lactose.

                                                                                                The Koreans also view food the same way as the Chinese do -- sometimes to their detriment. I found this pic on Jason Perlow's blog and thought it was hysterical -- Koreans trying to justify the health qualities of fried chicken.

                                                                                                1. re: Miss Needle


                                                                                                  I think there's probably not a bright-line difference between what Pollan calls "nutritionism" and food cultures in which food is treated as medicinal. But I think there is a difference, the difference between "garlic cleans the blood" and "garlic seems to have certain beneficial properties, therefore, instead of just including garlic in our diets, we need to find the specific chemical that's helpful and synthesize it and add it as a supplement to our sugary breakfast cereal." And in any food tradition, food has multiple meanings and multiple uses, not just medicinal -- foods for birth, homecoming, marriage, or mourning, for example.

                                                                                                  On the call-in show I listened to last week, at the very end an elderly Armenian man called in and talked about the food traditions he grew up with: different kinds of food eaten at different times of the year, specific combinations of foods, figs to regulate digestion, garlic to clean the blood. :-) It was really fascinating.

                                                                                      2. Sounds like what my mom. I sent her this post and she replied : "YES". Hee.

                                                                                        1. You know what I think is funny about that whole "grandmother" thing? It's that my grandmother and great-grandmother would eat many of the things that are so badly demonized today.

                                                                                          My mother always said that Crisco was a standard cooking fat in her home growing up. Bread was always white. And pasta? I think my great grandmother would spit in your face if you told her to serve wholewheat pasta. Semolina flour if you please! Let's not forget the mountains of canned vegetables that my family consumed before I was born.

                                                                                          The perimeter thing doesn't always work either. What if I want rice or pasta for dinner (brown, wholewheat or otherwise)? How about canned tomatoes for sauce? Can I have frozen vegetables and berries because they're cheaper in the off season? What if I live in the Northeast and most farmer's markets don't happen until late spring?

                                                                                          1. As an addendum, I listened to Pollan being interviewed on a local SF Bay Area call-in show today, and i really felt for the guy. The show's host, who, it turns out, is a vegan and went "raw food" a few months ago, made a fruit-and-spinach smoothie, which apparently they were drinking during the show. He was very polite about it.

                                                                                            1. I admit I haven't read the book yet (my number hasn't come up on the library hold list) but I suspect that part of what #5 about shopping grocery store perimeters is about is to get folks to realize that grocery stores aren't set up willy-nilly.

                                                                                              Stores make the most money on selling heavily processed foods in packaging, and these things are given the best and most visually enticing display space on purpose. Basic ingredients like flour, carrots, spices, a pork chop, rice, etc, often aren't highlighted. At my Cub foods for instance there is usually an elaborate tower of cartons of pop that you have to take extra steps to walk around as you go into the store. I find it's really hard to only get the things on my list. Since I realized the whole store psychology thing it's been a lot easier for me to push past the overflowing bin of Oreos and choose to get ingredients to make my own cookies instead. Stores are always rearranging to find the best way to get you to buy more so the perimeter thing may not be the rule to follow everywhere. Stores even rearrange simply to throw off the shopper with an established route who had been missing their display of the !!newest low sodium-heart healthy-high fiber-Coco Puffs!!.

                                                                                              This is partly why I like going to the farmers market. Not that they also aren’t trying to perfect their displays in the competition between stands, but it’s a lot easier for me to cut out the noise and only get the things I actually want.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: AmandaAnn

                                                                                                jfood developed his own shopping list that somewhat mimics his grocer layout (used Word and newspaper columns feature). 95% of what jfood buys and stores is on this list.

                                                                                                There are a pile of them on the desk in the kitchen and all the jfoods can just check the box for stuff they want. Then when jfood does the shopping he adds his checked boxes and off to the store. It is SOOOOOO efficient and less expensive then the old walk into the grocers and say to yourself "OK what did I come here for?" And also jfood never hears any more, "did you remember to get blah-blah?" Hey if it ain't checked off or written on the shoping list, not jfood's fault.

                                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                                  That's a great idea, jfood! I make a list too, but categorize by group, i.e. meats, veggies, dairy, etc. I like your method a lot.

                                                                                              2. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/mag...

                                                                                                Here's the article that I think gives a nutshell version of what the book is. I especially like his take on "nutritionism." When the government originally tried to release food guidelines that said "eat less red meat" the Beef Association got up in arms (of course.) So now they can only refer to "nutrients." Eat less saturated fat, eat more antioxidants. So, rather than eat whole foods which is what we should be doing, food companies just "add" nutrients to their otherwise nutritionally bereft foods and tout how good they are for you. And we're buying it, apparently.

                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: jennywinker

                                                                                                  Oh, Americans are buying it hook, line, and sinker. Rather than actually let dairy cows eat grass, we DHA supplement the milk. Then, we charge more for it, and concerned moms buy it rather than the milk from pastured cows. I wish more moms had time to read Pollan's book!

                                                                                                  1. re: amyzan

                                                                                                    There's a nice article in Wikipedia about reductionism, that applies to this argument. I am an engineer, and accustomed to treating phenomena by creating a model that's more easily analyzed, but I always had to be careful about the inaccuracies of the model. I want to believe that we can tease apart diet and health, but due to the complexity of the relationship I really doubt that we are very close to doing it. I think Pollan's approach is what's needed.