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

Via elephant journal
on May 29, 2009
get elephant's newsletter


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 or 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!) 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

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.



About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive.


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

  1. […] like me, putting together some organic veggie nachos, you’ll dig how eloquently, warmly and straightforwardly Michael Pollan communicates to the masses. For while I, and many others, struggle to express our […]

  2. […] sit informally on our own, and so we sit for longer periods of time). 2. Eating good, simple, real food: not too much, not too little 3. Exercise (nothing forces us to join our mind and body […]

  3. […] Exercise: Of the body and the mind. 3. Organic Food 4. Love & Family 5. Nature 6. […]

  4. […] Exercise—find something you enjoy doing, and do it. I like bicycling, climbing, and yoga. 3. Eat real food. If it has more than three ingredients, generally, if you’ve seen an ad for it, […]

  5. […] chemicals, less patents and laboratories and politics, more healthy, cancer-free. Go with Michael Pollan’s three simple rules. If you’ve seen it advertised, avoid it. If your great grandma ate it, go for it. Eat sitting […]

  6. […] the world on the left: it starts now. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Bicycle. Shovel the walk of a neighbor–it’s free exercise. Go to that yoga class, and […]

  7. Andrea says:

    Well, I was going to share this until it told me to "Be like the Obamas." Umm, I'd rather not.