Michael Pollan is one of those food writers that I’ve been meaning to read for years. But there’s something that’s always held me back. I think it’s the whole food-intelligentsia vibe with his titles. Does anyone else feel a bit intimidated by the thought of ‘In Defense of Food’ or ‘The Omnivore’s dilemma’?
Recently, however, I stumbled upon a copy of his latest publication, a cute little book called ‘Food Rules – An Eater’s Manual’. At last. Something approachable.
I did feel a little disturbingly smug as I read through Pollan’s 64 food eating guidelines. I like to think that my diet is relatively healthy. But I would never have been able to capture it so succinctly. You have to admire his overarching answer to the eternal question of what to eat. Simple really:
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
I couldn’t agree more. So I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite ‘rules’ from the book. I’m not a qualified nutritionist, they’re just my personal views (although I did take a couple of nutrition subjects at uni).
But before we get into it, reading food rules got me thinking about my guilty processed-food indulgence. Yep. The pictures above have probably given me away. I have a bit of a mayonnaise addiction.
For years I tried to make my own, but it always tasted a little funny and never as good as the stuff out of a jar of S&W or Hellmans. I had pretty much resigned myself to a life of factory mayonnaise, consoling myself that at least the S&W claim to use ‘cage free’ eggs. But reading this book and reflecting on my food choices inspired me to at least have another crack at making mayonnaise that tastes like S&W.
Studying the ingredient list gave me my a good start: Whole eggs, neutral oil, vinegar, lemon, a touch of sugar. (If you’re wondering, the rosemary extract is an antioxidant, not used for flavour). And I’m happy to say that the results are pretty good. I can’t promise I won’t ever buy another bottle from the supermarket, but at least it will be happening on a less regular basis. Oh, and if you’re looking for the secrets to homemade mayo – skip to the recipe preamble below.
the stonesoup ‘Food Rules’ – adapted from Michael Pollan
Avoid food products containing more than five ingredients.
Great minds? Just as with my [5 ingredients] series, it’s not so much the number 5 that’s important. It’s about food that is as simple as possible.
Avoid food products that make health claims.
If it makes a health claim then it generally need a package which means it’s probably not something you’d find at your local farmers markets.
Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not.
Hello margarine. A good rule of thumb for life in general, and people in particular.
Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
Eat like an omnivore.
This isn’t saying that people shouldn’t be vegetarians. It’s a gentle reminder that variety in our diets is the best way to ensure we are getting everything we need.
Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.
This one is for my Dad, who has spent many long hours lecturing me (and anyone within earshot) on the importance of healthy soils to grow healthy sheep (and all food ultimately).
Eat some foods that have been predigested by bacteria or fungi.
It sounds a bit disgusting to think of things like yoghurt, cheese, vinegar and wine(!) as being predigested. But I love food that has been helped with a little fermentation and I believe in my heart that they are good for us.
Be the kind of person who takes supplements—then skip the supplements.
I’ve always felt that supplements aren’t only a waste of money, but they can actually have a negative impact. Our digestive systems are so complicated and all based on reactions that have equilibriums or ‘balance’. It’s always seemed to me that the balance of the nutrients we eat is as important as the absolute amounts so bombarding with mega doeses found in supplements seems a little risky. Better, and more fun to focus on getting your nutrients from healthy food.
Stop eating before you’re full.
This is a new one for me. But I’m planning on giving it a go. It’s about giving your body a chance to register how much you’ve eaten (it takes a while) and how full you are.
It’s all about enjoying your food and being mindful and in the moment when you’re eating. For those of you that missed it, I wrote a piece on how to master the art of mindful eating for Zen Habits earlier in the year.
When I was working in the food industry, every year there would be more and more talk of people moving from 3 meals a day to an increase in mini-meals and all-day grazing. Interesting that this trend is rising along with the incidence of obesity. Coincidence? I think not.
Do all your eating at a table.
This is linked to the whole mindful eating thing. But it’s also about making the time and space in your life to enjoy your food.
Break the rules once in a while.
My favourite rule of all and one that should be applied to life in general, not just food.
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
whole egg mayonnaise
large batch: makes approx 3 1/2 cups
small batch: makes approx 1 1/2cups
A few secrets to homemade mayonnaise:
i. Everything needs to be at room temperature.
ii. If making with a food processor you need to have enough egg at the beginning so the oil gets dispersed evenly. I’ve had many tears over split mayonnaise when I thought I was being clever and halving the recipe. That being said, I have made this small batch with one whole egg successfully in the food processor.
iii. Olive oil is too strongly flavoured for mayo. I’ve tried even just a little and it always overpowers. Stick to neutral oils.
iv. If it does split, it’s time to switch over to hand beating. Mix a tablespoon of the split mixture with a tablespoon of mustard then start adding the mixture back in very slowly. A trick I picked up from the formidable Julia Child.
v. It’s ok to season with a little sugar. I often add sugar to my salad dressings so why not mayo. It defintely makes a difference in reaching the S&W benchmark.
vi. The fresher your eggs, the longer your mayonnaise will last.
One of the things I love about this mayo, apart from that it tastes almost like S&W, is that you won’t have to find a home for leftover egg whites.
2 whole eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups peanut or other vegetable oil
1 whole egg at room temperature
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 cups peanut or other vegetable oil
1. Whizz eggs, mustard, vinegar & lemon together with a pinch salt.
2. With the motor still running, add the oil a few drops at a time, then build up to a thin stream and then a slightly more daring stream until most of the oil is incorporated.
3. Taste and season. Feel free to add a pinch of sugar or more vinegar, lemon juice or mustard if you like. Whizz to combine.
4. If the mayo is a little too runny, add the remaining oil. Too firm, add a little water.