May 11, 2009

The best foods to eat

Filed under: Publications — grahamophone @ 3:46 pm
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This rambling entry is about finding the best foods to eat without forcing yourself to eat Brussels sprouts or foregoing meat and sugar (though I will explain how to wean yourself off Coke). I’m not going to tell you about five superfoods or the 10 herbs that fight cancer.

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan

I am going to tell you what to read — “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” — and what the books mean to me. Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan created something of a personal cottage industry largely by railing against industrial food. And Pollan is winning. I would guess Pollan’s book sales are growing faster in the current economy than Pepsi’s soda sales. At least I hope so.

I just published this column about Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and why his book was three years ahead of its time. The book remains on bestseller lists because he unwittingly foresaw the exploding homegrown food movement that is growing out of economic woes as well as health and energy concerns. If you want a more thorough explanation, read the column. Instead, I want to talk about his marginally less popular but possibly more important “In Defense of Food.” It solves his omnivore’s dilemma for all of us, including those who have no interest in planting, foraging or hunting their own food. Again, he doesn’t tell you the best foods to eat. Rather, he gives simple rules for finding your own broad harvest of the best foods to eat. I’ll explain with three quotes, the first from my wife:

“I don’t know how you shop for food all the time.”

I do most of the shopping and cooking at my house. Shopping gets me out of the house and cooking gets me off my computer, where I blog and write all day. Cooking is a joyous exercise in creativity, curiosity and sharing. Shopping can be fun. Aside from searching for the best foods to eat, I love seeing the Crayons-brand “juice product” (WTF?). And don’t get me started on the people watching. You haven’t lived until you’ve been to the King Soopers near Denver’s Cheesman Park late on a Saturday night.

My wife was talking about similar packaged products, if not bright green drinks. She struggled to pick cereal with the right balance of local, organic and minimal packaging (not to mention fiber, protein and sugar). Yes, I can get neurotic about picking the best foods to eat, but “In Defense of Food” is a great help. You can knock out all kinds of other choices and pretty easily find the best foods to eat with Pollan’s simple rule …

“Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

The book has a handful of other rules, but most are a subset of this rule. “Don’t buy your food where you fill your car.” That’s because great grandma never encountered all the colors, flavors and preservatives in Dorito’s.

“Shop the perimeter of the store.” The dairy, meat and produce sections are your best bet for pure, simple foods rather than packaged food products. Again, great grandma would recognize chard, chicken and simple organic cheese.

As to cereal. If, like me, you’re not quite ready to make all your own cereal, look for the simple stuff with whole grains, real sugar and other ingredients that were around 100 years ago. Hint: Lucky Charms don’t fit the bill.

That leads me to my third quote:

“But it tastes good.”

This is an excuse vegetarians hear from people all the time about eating meat. I’m not going to get all preachy about meat. Instead, I urge you to follow Pollan’s rule for a month. “It” won’t taste good.

I bet you’ll be able to taste the chemicals in the Dorito’s and the excessive sugar in the Coke. Soda pop and Lucky Charms are sweeter than most anything you will taste by following the great grandma rule.  Happily, it’s really easy to make your own corn chips and there are plenty of good alternatives to sodas that are almost pure corn syrup or cereals with 100 unrecognizable ingredients.


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