25 - 2010

Food Rules 22-24: Less Meat, and How To Do It

This is my ongoing,11-week series about Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Part II is called, “What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Mostly plants.).” This installment covers rules 22 through 24.

We’ve finished the first section, which I think we could summarize for easy memorization as “keep it simple and clean.” Try to eat in, try to avoid sugar and lots of added ingredients, go for unprocessed, and be skeptical of name brands.

Now on to the specifics. This section proposes “a handful of personal policies” on what to eat.

Rule 22: Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.

Pollan’s copy on this rule touts the benefits of eating your veggies, with this statement leaping out to me:

In countries where people eat a pound or more of fruits and vegetables a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in the United States.

Hello. A pound? That doesn’t sound like much — an apple is half a pound. And in looking for data about how much fruits and vegetables Americans do consumer, this chart says we eat around 2 pounds a day per capita. I’d love more data on these stats.

He also points out that fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than many other foods. And he says vegetarians are healthier — your mileage may vary; after all, you can be “vegetarian” and live on French fries, milk shakes and cheese — but a *sound* vegetarian diet is lower in fats (especially saturated fats) and higher in fiber than many carnivores’ diets.

Rule 23: Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.

Again with the poundage: Pollan says Americans eat half a pound of meat per day on average, sometimes for 2-3 meals a day, when we just need a little bit of protein in terms of health. He suggests swapping the traditional portions — “instead of an eight-ounce steak and a four-ounce portion of vegetables, serve four ounces of beef and eight ounces of veggies.”

This goes along with some dieticians’ recommendations that your plate be half vegetables, one-fourth protein and one-fourth grains. And hey — it’s cheaper, too!

Rule 24: Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs, and other mammals].

He says it’s a Chinese proverb. And if it works for you as a mnemonic, fine and dandy. I’m going to pretend I didn’t read this, because it just makes me want to be contrarian and mocking. Pollan points out that it “inexplicably leaves out the very healthful and entirely legless fish” (maybe zero legs is the healthiest of all?).

I’d like to add that humans have two legs, so perhaps cannibalism is semi-healthy? (Although I wouldn’t recommend eating an American — we are fatty, loaded with preservatives and not likely to have been raised to free-range or organic standards.)

And what about insects? Many cultures eat insects, which are an environmentally friendly, low impact source of protein, despite their six legs’ not fitting into the proverb. In fact, this National Geographic article points out,

Hamburger, for example, is roughly 18 percent protein and 18 percent fat. Cooked grasshopper, meanwhile, contains up to 60 percent protein with just 6 percent fat. Moreover, like fish, insect fatty acids are unsaturated and thus healthier. … Insect farming is arguably much more efficient than cattle production. One hundred pounds (45 kilograms) of feed produces 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of beef, while the same amount of feed yields 45 pounds (20 kilograms) of cricket.

So for myself, I’m going to shelve this particular rule under “rules for which I am too sarcastic.”

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