Food Rules

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, talks about his new pocket-sized guide for eaters. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, presents rules for eating wisely, many drawn from a variety of ethnic or cultural traditions.

Event: Michael Pollan will be speaking, answering questions, and signing books
Tuesday, January 5, at 7:00 pm
Barnes & Noble Tribeca
97 Warren Street, at Greenwich Street


Michael Pollan

Comments [62]

soynuts44 from Grand Rapids, MI

[41] genevieve from brooklyn:

Educate your children. I talk to my 4, 7 and 9 year olds all the time about the importance of eating foods with out HFCS and artificial things etc. In fact at the grocery store the other day when they were pining for pizza lunchables or some other brand (don't know, never buy the stuff) I told them "no way, I love you too much to poison you with fake food". They laughed and stopped asking right away. They need to know how to make the right food choices as much as we do, give them the facts and just say "no"!

Feb. 18 2010 10:50 PM
jeff from The underworld

Man wants immortality. Unfortunately he owes the Gods a death, and what separates Man from all other organisms is that he knows it, and therefore, he remains neurotic. Pollan is just another in a long line of immortality soothsayers, but like the rest of us he too has a date with the worms. This brings us the sad state of being human.

“What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self expression---and all this to die. It seems like a hoax, which is why one type of cultural man rebels openly against the idea of God. What kind of deity would create such a complex and fancy worm food? Cynical deities, said the Greeks, who use man’s torments for their own amusement”

Ernest Becker

Eros can only imprison you, but only Thanatos can set you free.

Feb. 15 2010 03:59 PM
Jennifer Bagnall from Madison, NJ

2-years ago I put together my own list of food rules based on Michael's previous books. The hardest things? Giving up Diet Coke and drinking whole milk.

Much to my surprise, I didn't gain any weight - eating when you're hungry makes a big difference. My cholesterol went up - but almost all of that was HDL so I'm very happy about that.

My intent was to do it for 1 year - but I haven't looked back and don't plan to.

Feb. 03 2010 12:21 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State


Yes, Simpson’s movie unfortunately did suck. Yes, cost of living is much cheaper down south and in the Mid west. But the pay grade is also much lower (that’s why most of our manufacturing is done in these areas of the country). I have spent more time then I care to admit in states like Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakota’s and so on. Believe me, everyone out there in the middle of nowhere are not living in Mc mansions and only working 35 hour weeks. If anything, you’ll see a lot more working poverty around you in these areas and more people addicted the crystal meth so they can stay awake enough to work 2 full time jobs just to make ends meet then you would find on the east or west coast heavily populated states.

Jan. 05 2010 01:46 PM
Amy from Manhattan

bernard joseph [5] & alexis [11], the fact that you assume not finishing your food means throwing it out is a big part of the problem. Seriously, it doesn't even occur to you that it might mean putting the rest in the fridge to eat at another meal at home or getting a doggie bag at a restaurant? alexis' approach of not filling up your plate in the 1st place is fine--probably a better option than not cleaning it, but not the only option.

Shelly [10], Pollan did know of the petition but didn't want the job--he said this on WNYC when the petition was going around (can't remember if it was on Leonard's or Brian's show).

Jan. 05 2010 01:39 PM
db from nyc

In addition to the usual observations about the "European diet" (whatever that means - Finnish or Italian?); probably the most important is most "Europeans" (at least the Italians, which I'm most familiar) only eat at meal time. There is virtually no between-meal snacking. Here in the States, in addition to enormous portions during meals there is a culture of chronic snacking. This habit is encouraged and reinforced from a very early age, here. Children are constantly being plied with mountains of Gold Fish™, chips, cookies et al. These same parents often then wonder why junior won't eat his white-bread-instant dinner. Wha'?

It ain't rocket science - this may be the beauty of Michael Pollan's message. A little critical thought applied to what one consumes. The same could be extended beyond the food experience.

Jan. 05 2010 01:36 PM

Jon P./52

hate to say this but lots of people reject living in the nyc area because there is not enough time to eat as a family, everybody too busy supporting life in the metro area. millions of families have moved to the middle of nowhere to live without working all the time. A mansion in suburban Cleveland/gentleman's farm in Okanogan County Wa etc. costs less than or equal to a 2 bedroom condo in the garden state. so i think pollan's advice is, for most people "on the grid," too hard.

Jan. 05 2010 01:01 PM
Laura Lagano from Hoboken, NJ & NYC

One of the best practices for not overeating can be borrowed from the japanese. Hara hachi bu is a way of eating in Okinawa, Japan. The primary tenet is eating until you’re 80% full. Learn more at

Jan. 05 2010 12:58 PM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

Atkins is really a "no sugar" diet rather than a "no carb" diet. If you read labels for sugar content -- recognizing that you'll get sugar in the form of fructose from fruit -- you'll notice a definite change. And then when you do eat some kind of wonderful sugary dessert -- it's a treat and won't kill you.

Jan. 05 2010 12:58 PM

33 -- you are shocked by the price of fresh grapes purchased in manhattan in January?

Ya know I do not think that organic grapes grow in midtown manhattan in January. If they had to be imported, the airfare from Chile is presumably included in the final cost. I suggest you live in chile in January or skip the grapes if what you seek are cheap grapes.

Jan. 05 2010 12:57 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State

There is 2 things being overlooked. Yes eating slowly like Europeans is healthier. Yes eating home cooked meals all the time is healthier. But most Americans don’t work just 35 hours a week like most Europeans. Add insult to injury, for the last 20 years or so, both parents work full time in most American families. Yes there are a lot of short cuts for home cooking but in general it takes a lot of time and if you don’t like cooking, it can be real hard to muster up the energy to cook a complete meal for 4 from scratch after you've come home from a 12 hour shift. Yes some people can do it but not most.

Jan. 05 2010 12:53 PM
db from nyc

[41] genevieve from brooklyn:

you're the parent. get a grip on your spoiled children and quit your whining!

Jan. 05 2010 12:51 PM
hjs from 11211

Jgarbuz he did have a heart attack! he did not died from it, but he had a heart attack.

Jan. 05 2010 12:48 PM
Darlene from Puerto Rico

Regarding waste and feeling bad about how much we throw out, we live in Puerto Rico which does not have a great culture of recycling, etc. We live in a condominium (no recyling binds,etc despite our attempts at organizing that). How can condo/apartment dwellers succesfully compost, tec.?

Jan. 05 2010 12:42 PM
Kerissa from Brooklyn

Michael Pollan is absoluetely right about feeling better when you switch to cooking with basic ingredients. I made the switch a few months ago not realizing the benefits and was surprised at how quickly I began to lose weight and feel better. I also feel very full and satisfied after eating a meal I've prepared.

Jan. 05 2010 12:41 PM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Atkins did NOT suffer a heart attack. He had a congenitally bad heart since childhood. He slipped on ice.No diet can save you from slipping on ice. The powers that be, including the massive food processing industry combined with the paid off pharmaceutical and medical establishments have foisted one of the most monumental hoaxes since Bolshevism: the Low Fat diet! The low fat is now substituted by massive amounts of carbohydrates, which is the real reason for the obesity epidemic. I eat meat, eggs, LOTS OF BUTTER every single day, and ask my doctor about my blood pressure and heart. And I'm 63 and not in genetically great shape at all. FAR FROM It. The Atkins diet SAVED ME and he is my doctor for life, despite his early accidental departure.

Jan. 05 2010 12:40 PM
Diode from nyc

Thomas Jefferson said: "Rise from the table still hungry."

Jan. 05 2010 12:40 PM
Lisa from Manhattan

Europeans don't eat as quickly. The plates can be smaller and one dish at a time, instead of a huge plate of everything.

Love the show.

Jan. 05 2010 12:40 PM
Steve from Broolyn

I spent some time in southern Indian, and traditional healers there said to eat food, wait 10 minutes, then drink water. I thought this might be a technique to avoid over-eating. Do you think waiting to drink liquids could be useful?

Jan. 05 2010 12:40 PM

Antonio - I fell into a diet similar to what Pollan preaches, and gradually lost 10-15 lbs over 6 months. Breakfast is typically fat free Greek yogurt with granola, lunch (my biggest meal) is heavy on kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, some protein, and a bit of carbohydrates (and one or two small pieces of deep fried tidbits if I have a craving). Immediately after lunch, I crave some chocolate so I'll have two miniature Snickers or Reeses Cups. Dinner is light, and tends to follow lunch rules but if I want a carbohydrate-based dish sometimes I don't beat myself up.

I don't get the munchies in the afternoon or late night, and have much energy. I also stop when I'm actually full.

The weight started falling off, and I've maintained it easily (I'm a woman, btw). I think the key is to implement these changes gradually.

Jan. 05 2010 12:39 PM

French people's portion control has always applied to meat - I was surprised to see hwo thin my first piece of deeeeelish venison cost.

Organ meats are supposed to have the most nutrients (like humanely made liver pate)

Yes use everything. Inuit gave back what they didn't use. Michael please somewhere mention composting - we need to re-nourish our soil! It also helps people be aware of the life cycle.

Jan. 05 2010 12:37 PM
genevieve from brooklyn

Can the guest talk about how we can steer our children away from these "bad" school they see "gogurt" (as he mentioned), gummy candy, juice boxes etc..not to mention Mr Softie all summer long!! They see Cartoon faces all over the grocery store and beg for the Dora cookies or the trix rabbit yogurt...uggh any tips? thanks

Jan. 05 2010 12:36 PM
Ceccil from NYC

Can Michael comment on using 19th century menus as information about what people were eating in the 19th century? Wasn't the diet served at restaurants very different from the home or average person's diet when eating out was more of a luxury?

Jan. 05 2010 12:36 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State

Please ask if we are all accused of mostly eating out of the center isles of the supermarket, then why is it that in every supermarket I have ever been, the produce and dairy department are always by far the largest departments in the store?

Jan. 05 2010 12:36 PM
GW from Bronx

MY father called the "collard green " water "pot liquor" That is the southern expression

Jan. 05 2010 12:36 PM
Robert Huber from New York

Whenever the Atkins diet is mentioned, people will frequently say it prohibits carbohydrates. That is not true. During the first two weeks of the diet, carbs are limited to 20 gm per day. After that, carbs are gradually added. The important thing is Dr. Atkins' dislike for refined carbohydrates. We were his patients and often discussed this common misunderstanding with him.

Jan. 05 2010 12:34 PM
Anon from Staten Island

We've been hearing about the health benefits of very low caloric intake, but is there a mental impact? We often attribute learning disabilities in children growing up in poverty to poor nutrition. So how low can we go before we run a risk of negative impact to our mental health/brain function?

Jan. 05 2010 12:34 PM
Janny from jersey city

I belong to a CSA which i am told is a good thing; however, deliveries include non-local and imported items (unless bananas have become local!). Is this still a good thing, even tho i am not necessarily eating 'local'?

Jan. 05 2010 12:33 PM
Daniel from New Brunswick, NJ

Michael's statement that the obesity epidemic can be explained solely by changes in diet and not activity is incorrect. You cannot divorce energy intake from energy output in terms of the positive energy balance needed to promote obesity. The fact that no studies have reported a decrease in physical activity does not mean that activity patterns are not major factors in the obesity epidemic, it is more a reflection of that inability to accurately measure physical activity in large populations.

Jan. 05 2010 12:32 PM
Olivia from Manhattan

My boyfriend and I, when in a pinch, shop at the Amish Market on 9th Ave and 50th St which is notoriously expensive--we joke that you can't get anything there for less than $5. However, we noticed (after the fact) that THE most expensive item on our receipt from Monday night was a bag of grapes. $10 for a bag of grapes! We even bought bag of gourmet coffee which was cheaper than that. Unbelievable.

Jan. 05 2010 12:32 PM
Claire from White Plains

When my daughter was about 10 years old, her doctor told her that any foods advertised on television should be avoided. Based on observations of the 20 years since then, I believe he was right.

Jan. 05 2010 12:31 PM
A listener

Does Michael have any comments on eating yogurt to get healthy flora in the gut and ground flax seeds to scrub the colon?

Jan. 05 2010 12:30 PM
Steve from Manhattan, NY


I have kept a label from a food-like product that I received on an international flight a couple of years ago. It is "Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread Swiss-Type Flavor". I think this is a particularly convoluted example of the "food like replacement products" that Michael Pollan referred to earlier in your discussion. Perhaps you would like to share this example with your listeners.

Steve Abseck

Jan. 05 2010 12:30 PM

I've noticed that even Karo has stopped using HFCS in their corn syrup (if their ingredients are to be believed). I don't use it extensively, but it's nice to know I can make certain sweet items once in a while that behave ideally with a glucose syrup.

In reference to the comment on Japanese produce, this is indeed correct. However, they have a high rate of stomach cancer because their current diet is heavy in sodium.

Jan. 05 2010 12:30 PM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

The PBS documentary based on the Botony of Desire was brilliant! What I took away was that it's dangerous to plant only one variety of anything -- apples, potatoes, corn, wheat. Could result in mass famine to continue farming as we do now.

Jan. 05 2010 12:28 PM
antonio from the republic of park slope..

If you change your diet based on what Mr. Pollan has outlined, how quickly will you see health benefits?

Jan. 05 2010 12:28 PM
hjs from 11211

In April 2002, Atkins suffered a heart attack. hope u fare better

Jan. 05 2010 12:27 PM
Jean Freely from NYC

The cultures/communities (like the Eskimos) he spoke of are probably specific peoples whose bodies adapted in a Darwinian way to food like seal blubber, etc. This does not mean that these diets would not cause an ordinary American to have health issues if he/she suddenly started eating a diet from one of these indigenous cultures.

Jan. 05 2010 12:27 PM

Go Michael Pollan!!!

Right - any question, I defer to any Italian advising. They have the best grandmas in the kitchen if you ask me. But change it a little to include whole grain pasta. In France they are very conscious of appropriate portions and cook so simply and yummily in the home

Instead of flour:

Why butter is better:

Root Beer and Ginger ale used to be fermented beverages! You can make them at home.

Jan. 05 2010 12:27 PM

Kosher -- culturally-enforced nutritional system? (or put another way nutritionally-based religion?)

Jan. 05 2010 12:24 PM
Kerissa from Brooklyn

One of my great-grandfathers supported his family in the depression by being a margerine salesman. So, thank you, Lenny, for letting people know about the yellow dye capsule, which helped keep my family afloat. =)

Jan. 05 2010 12:24 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State

While we are being nostalgic about grandma’s cooking, eating 2 dozen of grandma’s cookies in one sitting will kill you just as fast as eating 2 dozen Oreo cookies in one sitting. Just because its all natural and home made from your loving grandmother does not mean its healthy.

Jan. 05 2010 12:23 PM
Yukari Sakamoto from NYC/Tokyo

My husband and I divide our time between Tokyo and NYC and the first thing we noticed when shopping in the supermarket is how cheap things like ice cream and chips are in the USA.

In Japan, it is actually cheaper to buy fresh vegetables than to buy processed foods. We definitely eat better when are in Tokyo.

My husband is a fishmonger and he could not believe the lack of variety of seafood in NYC, but also the quality was not fresh and he was surprised to see that some of it is even for sale.

Jan. 05 2010 12:22 PM
anne from manhattan

Can Mr. Pollan comment on the current USDA, especially if Obama's appointees have/will make a difference - in terms of decreasing/ending farm subsidies for corn, or other issues related to good, healthful food?

Jan. 05 2010 12:21 PM
Marc Dennis from Brooklyn

I'm founder of INSECTS ARE FOOD.COM. Please ask Michael if he has ever considered insects as "food" in any of his research since there are many cultures who do indeed consider insects as food. FYI: Insects are high in protein and very low in fat. Thank you.

Jan. 05 2010 12:21 PM
Laura from Staten Island

I make my own plain yogurt. I was on vacation last summer and the place where we stayed had Dannon blueberry yogurt for breakfast. The label said, "All Natural" and "Fat Free" but I was shocked when I read the ingredients. One of the top ingredients was High Fructose Corn Syrup, and one serving had 26 grams of sugar.

Jan. 05 2010 12:19 PM
Cynthia from long island

Amen! Good Nutrition=Good Health

Jan. 05 2010 12:19 PM
anne from manhattan

About the relatively varied diets of today's American: I think that a varied diet (Japanese today, Italian tomorrow, etc) can be fine nutritionally.

However, I think this variety may cause us to overeat. If someone eats the same bowl of noodles every morning for breakfast, they know just how much to prepare & eat. But if someone eats burritos one day, pizza the next day, and stir-fry the next, he/she doesn't have ingrained accurate ideas of suitable food amounts to consume, and, therefore, it becomes much easier to overeat.

Jan. 05 2010 12:18 PM
Brian from Manhattan

Can you comment on Taco Bell's new advertising campaign that a women lost a lot of weight eating the "fresco" choices on the menu?

Jan. 05 2010 12:18 PM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Well, I went on the so-called "ATkins Diet" at age 50 some 13 years back, quicky lost 35 pounds and have never looked back. I am now 63 and I my young doctor is shocked tell her how much meat, eggs, fat and butter I eat daily. But few carbs. No bread, no french fries, pasta, etc., except on rare occasions as treats.
I make great use of Splenda, even on eggs and stuff, and can make a lot of sweet tasting foods, even chocolatey foods, using nearly no sugar and other carbs.

The low fat, high fruit prescription is the biggest pack of nonsense since Marx's Communist Manifesto. But Atkins did not rule out eating carbohydrates. He merely said that the intake should be less than 60 grams a day to keep the weight off. Now if you do a lot of hard work and sweating and burn the carbs off every day, you can eat as much as you want provided you burn most of them off. But if you are the typical modern-day sedentary average person, then intake of carbs MUST be under 60 grams daily or YOU WILL GAIN WEIGHT.

But Atkins has been terribly maligned by the powers that be, but ultimately the truth will not remain buried forever.

Jan. 05 2010 12:17 PM
patrisha kay from new york city

I love your books and your food ethics. re today's conversation on cultural differences etc.isn't it important to note that the cultures you mentioned are far more likely to be more active and work physically as opposed to many americans who are bound to their desks

Jan. 05 2010 12:16 PM
alexis from nyc

why "don't clean your plate"? at some point, as adults, doesn't this method of staying healthy just become wasteful? how about don't fill up your plate? so few of us, at least in nyc, live in a place where we can compost or feed it to the pigs, so leaving stuff on your plate doesn't seem like the most healthful opti...

Jan. 05 2010 12:15 PM
Shelly from Albany

You know, I wasn't kidding when I signed a petition after Obama was elected for Michael Pollan to be agricultural secretary. Curious - was he even approached? Or did he know about the online petition?

Jan. 05 2010 12:14 PM
Yu from Manhattan

I think people from different places have evolved to tolerate the food that's available to them. So if I eat 75% fat--it'll be very bad for me being from a grain eating heritage for thousands of years. But if Eskimos eat 90% rice, they probably could adapt either. The problem is that we now are rapidly and dramatically changing the diets from what we've evolved to on. Human evolution can happen on a rapid basis--look at rapid change in sickle cell anemia prevalence with changing malaria trends.

Jan. 05 2010 12:14 PM
Sarah from Weston CT

Mr Pollan just implied that Type 1 diabetes is caused by a high fat diet when he suggested that communities who live off a diet of seal blubber have no Type 1 - Could he please correct that very inaccurate comment?

Jan. 05 2010 12:14 PM
GW from Bronx

You cant forget that the genetics of those populations will select for the diet that they have available to them. Perhaps it is selecting within our population as well. This is where disease will intersect with diet. Tomatoes and olive oil is an example of cross continent benifits as native peoples in the Americas who gave us tomatoes never had access to olive oil.

Jan. 05 2010 12:13 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State

Please ask your guest what happened to the 4 food groups. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, we were all brain washed into living with the 4 food groups. Believe it or not there was a McDonalds on every corner and the Quickie Mart was full of just as much junk food as it is today. Yet somehow we didn’t even come close to the obesity rates that exists in American schools today.

Jan. 05 2010 12:12 PM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

the idea of never finishing what's on your plate is moronic- so we should waste even more food? maybe have a smaller portion?
and isn't this the guy who claims people in the ghetto are fat because they don't have access to fresh produce? c'mon lenny, this guy is ridiculous.

Jan. 05 2010 12:11 PM
Cooking Mom from Jersey City

The new company WARMABLES is working on teaching America how to start eating healthier at home, in school and at the office.
The company is still small but very helpful once you have signed up for their free weekly newlsetter.
Find them at

Jan. 05 2010 12:06 PM
greenfoodgal from Fairfield, CT

Michael, I enjoyed seeing you in Food, Inc. and FRESH and reading your books and articles. Can you talk a bit about the connection between eating real food in its natural state and home cooking? I felt kind of down after reading your NYT magazine article about the lost art of home cooking. What national movements are happening to help people return to cooking their own food? Thanks.

Analiese Paik

Jan. 05 2010 11:55 AM
Gabrielle from Brooklyn

It seems that individual change can only take us so far. How does Michael suggest going about changing the fundamentals of our food system?

Thank you,

Jan. 05 2010 11:40 AM
Pete, London

Can Michael comment on the recent UK study that claimed that organic foods have no discernible health benefits over ordinary foods? After reading and greatly appreciating In Defense Of Food, this claim surprised me.

Jan. 05 2010 09:27 AM

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