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Michael Pollan's Favorite Dietary Dos and Don'ts

meals, diet, eatingEarlier this year, Michael Pollan posted a request for reader’s rules about eating. Within days, he had received more than 2,500 responses. Here are some of Pollan’s 20 favorites:

1. Don’t eat egg salad from a vending machine.

2. Don’t eat anything that took more energy to ship than to grow.

3. If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry.

4. Eat foods in inverse proportion to how much its lobby spends to push it.

5. Avoid snack foods with the “oh” sound in their names: Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, Ho Hos, etc.

6. No second helpings, no matter how scrumptious.

7. It’s better to pay the grocer than the doctor.

8. You may not leave the table until you finish your fruit.

9. You don’t get fat on food you pray over. (Meals prepared at home, served at the table and given thanks for are more appreciated and more healthful than food eaten on the run.)

10. Breakfast you should eat alone. Lunch you should share with a friend. Dinner, give to your enemy.

11. Never eat something that is pretending to be something else (artificial sweeteners, margarine, etc.)

12. Don’t yuck someone’s yum. There is someone out there who likes deep-fried sheep eyeballs and, well, more power to them.

13. Make and take your own lunch to work.

14. Eat until you are seven-tenths full and save the other three-tenths for hunger.

15. I am living in Japan and following these simple rules in preparing each meal: GO HO – incorporate five different cooking methods, GO SHIKI – incorporate five colors, GO MI – incorporate five flavors.

16. One of my top rules for eating comes from economics. The law of diminishing marginal utility reminds me that each additional bite is generally less satisfying than the previous bite. This helps me slow down, savor the first bites, stop eating sooner.

17. Don’t eat anything you aren’t willing to kill yourself.

18. When drinking tea, just drink tea. I find this Zen teaching useful, given my inclination toward information absorption in the morning, when I’m also trying to eat breakfast, get the dog out, start the fire and organize my day.

19. When you’re eating, don’t talk about other past meals, whether better or worse. Focus on what’s in front of you.

20. After spending some time working with people with eating disorders, I came up with this rule: Don’t create arbitrary rules for eating if their only purpose is to help you feel in control.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Michael Pollan has a knack for taking the complex, big-picture problems facing the entire food system and explaining them in simple, relatable bite-sized pieces.

This is likely why Pollan’s books In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma are quickly becoming true classics of the food world.

Though the tidbits above are not written by Pollan, but rather selected by him from a pool of more than 2,500, they represent a smattering of small ways that you can improve your relationship with food and the way you view agriculture, eating and the American food system.

This is a favorite topic of Pollan’s, and one that is well worth revisiting here.
The Food Industry Challenges That Most of Us Need to be Address
There are far more challenges than I can address here, but one of the most prominent revolves around agricultural subsidies.

The food crops currently subsidized by the U.S. government are corn, wheat, soy and rice. Growing little else but corn and soy means we end up with a fast food diet. In essence, these commodity programs are subsidies for the creation of junk and fast food, not REAL food that could have a positive impact on public health.

The average American is now 10 pounds overweight, which translates into $250 billion in added yearly health care costs, not to mention a shorter lifespan.

But in addition to producing little else but fast food, this type of monoculture is also very dependent on fossil fuels. You see, when you grow one type of crop almost exclusively, you deplete the soil, which means you have to use more fertilizer, which is made from fossil fuel. Monocultures also invite more pests, which need to be treated with ever increasing amounts of pesticides -- also made from fossil fuel.

Cheap food is actually incredibly expensive once everything is added up, including stratospheric health care costs, continued dependence on fossil fuels, and the destruction of the earth as a whole.

One of the many astounding facts that Pollan has revealed is that it now takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food. And for certain foods, like the feedlot beef used at most fast food restaurants, it can take 55 fossil fuel calories to produce 1 calorie of food!

This clearly is unsustainable.
What About Food Safety?
This is another hot topic and one that’s been making headlines a lot recently.

It’s a double-sided issue, the first side being a clear lack of regulation, inspection and oversight for the massive factory farms where much of your food is grown. For instance, there is no federal requirement for meat grinders to test their ingredients for E.coli prior to selling them. And most retailers do not test either.

However, this is on the surface level. At a much deeper level is the fact that this policing was never necessary until huge food corporations started to interfere with the natural order of agriculture.

The food system began its dramatic decline the second the world turned away from the farming practices of our ancestors, and began to attempt to outdo nature with technology.

Now, producing food on a massive scale at the lowest price possible has taken precedence over obeying the laws of nature. The system is pushing natural systems and organisms to their limit, forcing living creatures to function as machines.

Of course, “whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience,” Michael Pollan pointed out in Our Decrepit Food Factories.

Soon, the animals, and consequently your food supply, become unhealthy. The honeybees begin to get sick and die off. The bacteria prove that they can outwit man-made antibiotics, and create super-versions of themselves.

And as nature has shown us many times before, when you take away one part of this integrated, living system, things begin to crumble.

So what you can do, like the readers who wrote in to Pollan have likely done, is make small changes in your own life in regard to how you eat, and what type of agriculture you choose to support.

Even though the problems with our food system are vast, you can do your small part to help. If you have the space, a backyard garden is a great starting point. You can also steer clear of foods that come from factory farms, and instead support sustainable agriculture movements in your area.

And, why don’t we pick up where Michael Pollan left off? You can share some of your favorite dietary “dos and don’ts” in the Community Comments section below …

+ Sources and References