Food Rules & In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto Michael Pollan, 2008-2009

Food Rules , 2009
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, 2008
Michael Pollan

I have a theory that a writer’s second book, which is what this one is for me, is the most difficult to write and the most revealing to read. To borrow a metaphor from geometry, a first book is like a point in the infinite space of literary possibility: it can be about anything and leads nowhere in particular.

Three years between these book’s release and my time reading them, and three more years before writing these reviews. I thought I’d read another Pollan book, but perhaps I haven’t…

In order for natural selection to help us adapt to the Western diet, we’d have to be prepared to let those whom it sickens die.”

If I’m being honest, sometimes I wish we would. Still…that isn’t what this book is about! I obviously enjoy Michael Pollan and his writing. In Defense of Food is a book about food in general, whereas Food Rules in a short treatise with a summary of his “rules” for being healthy through food from his years researching the field.

One of the best themes was how “Nutritionism might be the best thing ever to happen to the food industry,” because it allows for a somewhat limited (in the hundreds, or thousands of types of foods) to be made into an infinite concoction of foods — each one can compete with the others, and consumers always need to buy more.

Pollan summarizes Ames, who I think is the man also mentioned in The Third Plate behind the “micronutrient hypothesis,” that animals, including humans, will eat as much as necessary to satisfy micronutrient needs, and no less.

Moreover, Pollan briefly states a symptom of the problem — we’ve reversed our spending on food and healthcare in fifty years. We take pride that we spend so little on food; we’re almost on the bottom of the list in terms of the % of family income which we spend on food. And while this certainly doesn’t mean that buying an expensive restaurant dinner — or the choicest cut of beef — is inherently healthy, it does suggest that spending more on food, and less on cheap, processed crap, will improve our health.


Food “rules” I’m already good at following:

  • Eat fermented foods
  • Eat sweet foods only as they’re found in nature!
  • “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead”

  • Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods.
  • When eating somewhere other than at a table, stick to fruits and vegetables.”


  • Some additional “rules” found in the longer book that should be added:
    • Avoid products that make health claims. Any “real” food doesn’t have labels, ingredients, and its industry doesn’t have the money to create such marketing campaigns.
    • View foods based on their degree of processing, and eat the least processed. This is probably the strongest rule!
    • Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.”


Rules I need to focus on more:

  • Avoid big fish, at the top of the food chain, and opt for those lower down.
  • Eat to only 80% capacity!
  • Spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.”

  • Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.”

  • Grow a vegetable garden!
  • Drink wine (I disagree)
  • Don’t eat too much protein (I disagree)