“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” is Michael Pollan’s very simple but rather remarkable and challenging philosophy about eating in America. Pollan, author of several books and articles on the matter of food philosophy and politics, cuts right to the point. He argues that the western diet is ruining our health, particularly all the “edible foodlike substances” (think margarine or pringles) that we bombarded and quite frankly tempted with. These items are engineered and processed and at the end of the day, no matter what health claims they make, are terrible for us. He believes, and I’m now tending to agree with him, that we need to forge past these items and circle back around to a much simpler time and eat whole foods. One of his rules that he published in his book Food Rules makes this quite clear. When grocery shopping, don’t buy anything your grandmother or great grandmother wouldn’t recognize. Another rule I love (and I’m paraphrasing), don’t eat anything with an ingredient that a fifth grader cannot read aloud.
Sounds simple right? Well, in theory. After reading Food Rules and In Defense of Food, I have been trying to move in that direction. So far, I am loving the result, but I can clearly see how difficult it is to glide past about 90% of the grocery store, and I can acknowledge that access to real food isn’t as convenient or cheap. This is quite disturbing to me, because I actually live in a place where a good chunk of the population has been eating whole foods for years and years, and there’s a natural grocery store on every other corner, along with a vibrant and consistent farmer’s market. When I think of people who live in smaller towns across America that don’t have that kind of access, it really saddens me. Add on top the cost of eating in this way and it’s no wonder that obesity plagues the less affluent. I mean, which is cheaper – eating at Burger King or buying grass fed, hormone free ground beef at the grocery store, along with a whole grain buns and add in the time it takes to prepare? But it is not impossible. As Pollan often writes and says, we can vote with our forks. If we push back that we prefer whole foods we can influence the market.
Listen to Michael Pollan explain it (he does so much better):
One of my favorite rules that he’s written is that you should make your own food. Want french fries? Make them yourself. Want fried chicken? Don’t go to KFC, make your own. Not only can you control the ingredients and how it is made, you are less likely to do it often. You’ll save those foods for special days.
So here’s what I have been doing to get started on my path:
- Given up artificial sweeteners (I’ve been meaning to do that for years). This means I’ve switched from coffee to tea, which has been nice. It’s cheaper and better and makes me feel better. And it’s easier to make. That also means giving up soda. Thankfully, this food revelation coincided with Lent, where I had been planning on giving up soda anyway.
- Eating at and from home as much as possible. Eating at home allows you to control exactly what you eat. Thanks to my adventures in couponing, I’ve been doing that a lot of this year anyway. I’ve always felt deep down that the key to my health and my bank account is to cut out dining out. I’ve been striving for this for a very long time, and I finally feel like I’m in a routine and I’m situated well for this lifestyle. Eating out is now a luxury. This also means that I’ve gotten over my fast food addiction.
- Be willing to try new things. I’m a picky eater and I have delicate taste buds, but I am trying to get over that. If I could learn to love the grease that comes from fast food, I can learn to love vegetables.
- Realize I will not be perfect at this. The world around me is absolutely working against us in this effort. There will be moments when I cannot have food from home. And there will be moments, when I will have to compromise to make the people in my life who aren’t on board with this philosophy. It is going to be a challenge.