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A review of the new “quick read” by Michael Pollan, “Food Rules”

By Rich Seifert,  Co-op Market Board Member

I read Michael Pollan’s first book, the Botany of Desire many years ago, and now his stature as America’s food folk hero is perhaps at its peak.  He has followed an interesting road, and one we should all travel along these days.

His latest, “Food Rules”, is a very quick but effective read written in the pattern of “Life’s Little Lesson Books”. This format makes the book, dense as it is with inspirations, a very quick read.  It is perfectly designed for any aspiring “food missionaries” out there who want to promote healthy eating and move to a healthier diet.

And for those of us who want to see Alaska, and for me, Fairbanks, become healthier through healthy eating, the virtues of this little tome are as timely as they are helpful.

The plan for the book was to ask people, through a New York Times blog called “Well” (as in wellness) for their best advice in an aphorism on eating well and healthy.  Spinning onward from his previous book, In Defense of Food, he condenses the entire message of the book into these seven words:  Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Pretty comprehensive actually.  But in this little book he refines the message further into paragraphs of food insight, which I can best relate by showing examples of my own “favorites’” list.  Take these examples as a few seductive tastes to incite you to read the book:

–       Avoid food products that contain ingredients no ordinary person would keep in their pantry. For instance ethoxylated diglycerides, cellulose, xanthan gum.  Doesn’t seem too hard, does it?

–       Avoid food products that make health claims (!) Well this seems counter-intuitive at first, but upon reflection, makes great sense.  If a product has to tell you how healthy it is, then it is making up for some deficiency it obviously has.  Carrots don’t have to convince you that they are good for you.

–       Avoid foods you see advertised on television. Whoa, this is a biggie!  I have heard a friend describe commercials for pizza or Red Lobster restaurant as “food pornography”.  A fairly apt description of the visual effect of the commercials. It shouldn’t be necessary to say that the vegetable lobby doesn’t need to do TV ads.

–       Eat only foods that will eventually rot. Again, anything that will last indefinitely has so many preservatives and probably toxic ingredients that keep it from “spoiling” that it cannot be very good for living creatures such as we humans.   An exception is honey, which has an indefinite shelf life, but it is unique in that respect.  All food needs to be digestible, and if it can’t be digestible outside your body by other creatures who need it just as much, it is unlikely to be healthfully digested inside your body.

Since I am writing this for both the general public and particularly for the future patrons of our Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market (Co-op Market), I want to encourage the best food products for a healthy life, and make them available in Alaska, and preferably grown here too.

Michael Pollan’s  “Food Facts” is motivated by much the same things. He started out with a keen interest in finding out how to eat well to maintain his family’s health. He discloses two major facts in the preface that he has gleaned from this search, and he concisely summarizes what he has learned and written about since.

First, populations that eat mostly the “ Western” diet, consisting of lots of processed foods and meat, added fats and sugars, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases:  obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.  Virtually all of the obesity and the diabetes, 80% of the cardiovascular disease, and more than a third of all cancers can be linked to this diet.

And second, in contrast, populations eating a remarkably wide range of traditional diets generally don’t suffer from these chronic diseases.  It appears that we human omnivores are well adapted to a broad range of mixed traditional diets, except for one: the WESTERN DIET, recently fallen upon us.

There is a third factor though which is good news, and which I hope that our new co-op will help to promote:  People who get off the Western diet see dramatic improvements in their health.  Pollan cites research that suggests that the effects of the Western diet can be rolled back by getting off it, and relatively quickly.

It is our intent with the Co-op Market to help in every way to achieve this option and promote community health and wellness. We even have a committee devoted to those very subjects. (The next meeting of the Health and Wellness committee is Tuesday, June 1 at 5:30 pm at the Volunteer Center.)

Stay with us, be patient, and start developing these suggested eating habits now. As soon as we can, the Co-op Market will do all it can to keep you eating healthy and maintaining local food availability.  Join the Co-op Market, become a full voting member, and eat well.  Live long and prosper…  and come and visit us online at www.FairbanksCoop.org/

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