Food Rules: And the Food-Industry Quivers

May 05, 2010 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The people who run the food-industrial complex must get a special case of the shakes whenever a new Michael Pollan book is published. By now, the princes of processed food have probably realized that there is no way they can win an argument with him. Anyone who reads Pollan's new Food Rules - with its delightful collection of one-line zingers - won't be able to walk through the aisles after aisles of prepared food in supermarkets without seeing everything in a new and unflattering light.

Rule 11: Avoid foods you see advertised on television.

The manufacturers must hope that he eventually stops writing; the rest of us have to hope that he never does.

Rule 2: Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual takes up the themes that Pollan began in The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma and then brought brilliantly to fruition in In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. The clarity and common sense of these books have already won him a legion of followers, but Food Rules distills his argument down to an often hilarious set of 64 rules that you can post on your refrigerator - a little something to read before reaching for any package that contains a list of polysyllabic ingredients (Rule 7: Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.)

Rule 20: It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.

When the deficiencies of other industries are laid bare, the corporate managers can usually change the design, recall the product, or tweak the software until they get it right. But that doesn't work with food, Pollan insists. Nutrition is an infant science that can't begin to understand humanity's complex co-evolution with its natural food supply. Thus, every time the big companies and their in-house nutritionists try to improve their food-like products, they usually make them worse--saltier, more sugar-laden, and stripped of nutrition. What's the result of the billions of dollars spent each year by the food industry? A diet that has led to alarming rates of coronary disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

Rule 19: If it came from a plant eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.

Most of Pollan's arguments against the hype of food industry claims were made in his 2004 book In Defense of Food. There, he laid out in detail the case against chemically-laden food products and fad diets, bringing eating back to a few simple principles: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Food Rules builds on that argument, refining those principles into a few commonsensical, easy-to-remember rules that will ring in your ears while you're shopping for your next meal.

In the battle to control America's waistline, these books are some of the most important weapons we have to fight back against the processed food giants.