Must Hear: Rules For Eating Here's one thing everyone has in common: We all eat food. And for people fortunate enough to be able to decide what to eat, the ability to choose can breed anxiety.
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Must Hear: Rules For Eating

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Must Hear: Rules For Eating

Must Hear: Rules For Eating

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Some of us think about what we eat only on holidays. Some of us, all the time; some of us - well, not at all. For those of you who would like to eat healthier but can't bear to hear about the latest fad diet, you're in luck.

NPR's Art Silverman has some fresh advice for you.

ART SILVERMAN: Most people assume that even if they eat well, they won't be able to live for a thousand years or forever. But they do want to stay healthy and happy for their entire lives, then die a painless and quick death doing something heroic. Is that too much to ask?

So, many people try to pay attention to what they eat. It becomes a religion to them. They set down rules. We sampled some people's rules in a Washington suburb, to hear how they vary.

Unidentified Woman #1: My food rule is that I'm really, really picky about my meat - like, who's making it. I want to know where it's coming from.

Unidentified Man #1: I eat one thing on the plate at a time 'til it's gone,then I move on to the next. So I'd eat salad, then meat, then vegetables.

Unidentified Man #2: I usually avoid having pancakes or waffles or anything.

Unidentified Man #3: When it comes to sweets and cookies, I put them in my mouth, I taste it, and then I spit it out.

Unidentified Woman #1: I will only eat the food if I know exactly who has made that food.

Unidentified Woman #2: I usually don't eat things out of plastic bags.

Mr. MICHAEL POLLAN (Author, "Food Rules"): We're kind of lost in what has become a very treacherous food landscape. Eating has gotten really complex.

SILVERMAN: That's Michael Pollan. He's a crusader for changing the way we think about food, and he thinks we think about what we eat in ways that just don't make sense. He doesn't care much for those fads that create a mythology around proper ways to eat. He has a common-sense slogan, which is: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Michael Pollan's latest book is called "Food Rules."

Mr. POLLAN: This is a book that you can read in about 20 minutes or a half-hour. And it's got 64 rules - not all of them are going to stick. But my hope is that a couple will stick and that they will kind of be part of your bag of tricks when you enter the supermarket or the farmer's market. So, I'm not expecting anyone to memorize 64 rules. In fact, a lot of them take you to the same place. You know, the rule, you know, don't eat anything that your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food is not so different than the rule that says, don't eat any foods you've seen advertised on television.

SILVERMAN: And Michael Pollan suggests other common-sense rules that are cloaked in humor. Here's Rule 21.

Mr. POLLAN: It's not food if it's called by the same name in every language.

SILVERMAN: By that Michael Pollan means Big Mac, Pringles, Cheetos. Rule 19.

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

SILVERMAN: Sort of like an extended 10 commandments to keep you from straying from the path of wellness.

Mr. POLLAN: We do have a very religious view of food. Whenever we're eating, we think that this activity takes place on a spectrum, at one end of which is we're ruining our health 'cause we're eating the junk we want to eat, and at the other end of the spectrum, we're redeeming our health. And I really think that that's a shame. Because in my own experience, the best food for your health is the most pleasurable food. And there's not a tradeoff between eating well and eating pleasurably.

SILVERMAN: But in truth, people stumble way outside the orthodoxy of food rules. And by publishing this book, Michael Pollan sets himself up to be thought of as a high priest of eating right.

(Soundbite of music)

SILVERMAN: When word got around NPR that Michael Pollan had food rules, colleagues who strayed felt the need to confess. The first was reporter Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO: Forgive me, Michael Pollan, for I have committed a food sin. I was just in Austin, Texas, and I drowned in queso.

Mr. POLLAN: You know, I'm not sure that that does break the rules. I'd have to see the recipes. If it's really Velveeta, my attitude is don't eat foods that are pretending to be something they're not.

SHAPIRO: Well, thank you for absolving me of my food sin.

(Soundbite of music)

SILVERMAN: Next into the confessional booth was producer Neal Carruth.

NEAL CARRUTH: Forgive me, Michael Pollan, but I've committed the food sin of eating way too much candy.

Mr. POLLAN: Candy: It's a special-occasion food. It's a treat. Don't stop eating candy, but just think about when you have it, and if you can put it back up on its pedestal of being special.

(Soundbite of music)

SILVERMAN: And finally, our cake lady came by: producer Melissa Gray, author of "All Cakes Considered."

MELISSA GRAY: Forgive me, Michael Pollan, for I have sinned. In addition to the cake that I push on the staff every Monday, I also have a weakness, an indulgence for Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli in a can.

SILVERMAN: Now, that's nasty.

GRAY: No, it's not.

Mr. POLLAN: Well, you know, if you enjoy Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli and I don't, that's fine, that's fine. But I've also been to the feed lots where that meat was produced that's, you know, the little bit of it that's in the middle of those things and, you know, I have a little more trouble with it than you do.

SILVERMAN: You know, I really don't like this role of being food superego to people like you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POLLAN: I'm really sorry. But there is no one proper way to eat, and anyone who tells you that is crazy.

SILVERMAN: Unlike the tablets that came down from Mount Sinai, Michael Pollan includes one, final commandment Moses never thought of.

Mr. POLLAN: Rule number 64 is, you should break the rules from time to time.

SILVERMAN: Amen. That's Michael Pollan. The book is "Food Rules: Wisdom for Those Among Us Who Tend to Eat Food."

Art Silverman, NPR News.

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