May 29, 2009

Rules to Eat By (inspired by Foodie Hero Michael Pollan), via Sara Watts & Lindsey Cash

Food for Thought


Seminal food writer Michael Pollan came to Boulder on Thursday, May 21st, as a guest of The Boulder Bookstore. He was warmly received at Unity Church by a sold-out house of six hundred of his most ardent Boulder fans. His talk centered around his most recent book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.  Mr. Pollan spoke about the book’s thesis:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.

and gave the audience some rules to eat by. Due to Pollan’s flawless logic and accessible message, his rules proved straightforward, and inspiring to we two Boulderites.

Throughout the course of his talk, Pollan drew the audience’s attention to the evils and complications that have arisen from society’s invention of “nutritionsim.” Specifically, Mr. Pollan warned that as a society we have deemphasized our cultural motivations and values for eating and replaced them with a soulless, politicized, reduction of “food,” as well as a questionably scientific definition of health.

According to Pollan, our culture has been so bombarded with choices of new manufactured food products—or as Pollan calls them “food-like substances”—that individuals have simply become confused as to how to feed themselves. With modern science and technology, moreover, our society has begun to depend on “experts” who literally tell us how to eat. Pollan’s solution to this dilemma is to simplify, by both returning to our community roots and relearning to savor the experience of eating. More specifically, Pollan reminded us to listen to our mothers!

Pollan’s rules align perfectly with the simplicity of mother’s wisdom.  Some of his rules for eating illustrate his philosophy of simplicity.

Don’t eat anything with more than 5 ingredients

If you think about it, some of our most beloved food staples need no more than five ingredients to achieve perfection. Think bread (in all its many forms), cheese, pasta, ice cream…

Shop the perimeter of the supermarket

These are the perishables (and items that go bad are good!).  Food is alive and thus should die.

Shop at the Farmer’s Market

We have a wonderful Farmer’s Market right here in Boulder.  Take advantage!  It’s a fun way to spend your Wednesday evening or Saturday morning as well as a great way to see the fantastic array of locally produced foods. Check out www.boulderfarmers.org or www.eatlocalchallenge.com to find a farmer’s market in your area.

Don’t eat anything that contains ingredients you wouldn’t find in a normal person’s pantry.

Most normal people don’t cook with things like high fructose cornsyrup, artificial flavoring, and preservatives. These things are not real ingredients and therefore the products they make up are not real food (e.g. the insant mashed potatoes in Aisle 5).  Plus, these things can’t be found at any respectable farmer’s market!

Don’t eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food

Sorry Boulder athletes, but this includes things such as Gu and its cousins.


These rules are all good and fine, but since Boulderites (particularly readers of elephantjournal.com!) are known to go above and beyond, we offer the following ideas as ways that we believe you can take Pollan’s advice even further:

Eat Seasonally

This is how our ancestors ate for centuries.  There are nourishing foods year round, and we should gladly accept what Mother Nature offers us. Buying summer vegetables in the winter means that your food is likely being shipped from South America or elsewhere and thus has an enormous carbon footprint.

Colorado offers some unique challenges, given its short growing season, but there ways to make the best of what we have. You can buy extra fresh vegetables when they are in season and freeze them for winter use (this is Michael-Pollan-approved).

Eat Local

This goes hand-in-hand with eating seasonally and is the simplest way to reduce your food’s carbon footprint.  In Boulder we are fortunate to have many business owners who value sustainability and support local growers.  Seek out local businesses and restaurants that have a similar philosophy to your own.

Develop relationships with your local farmers and producers

There are many ways to do this: the aforementioned Farmer’s market, CSAs (or veggie shares), or take a fieldtrip to your local farm!.  Many of these farms have a produce stand set up on the weekends and welcome visitors. 

Plant a vegetable garden

Be like the Obamas!

Cook for Yourself

It’s the most perfect way to connect with your meal, your ingredients, and the experience of eating. And you save a lot of money.

Many writers have attempted to tackle the subject of our culture’s approach to food but few have gained the traction within our culture, as well as the general respect that Pollan has attained.  This influence is likely due to Pollan’s accessibility and “can-do attitude” with respect to food. Pollan reminds us that we are what we eat and that, “You cannot divorce yourself from the food chain you are a part of.”

So, we leave you with the challenge to “be the change you want to eat in the world!”



Sara Watts is a budding foodie and will be blogging about her upcoming veggie share at thefoodshare.blogspot.com

Lindsey Cash is a born and raised Boulderite who recently co-founded the contemporary arts organization, Boulder ArtDistrict, in a grassroots effort to bring inventive and exciting new art happenings to Boulder. www.boulderartdistrict.com


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