13 - 2010

Food Rules 61-63: Grow, cook, eat

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

Part III is called, “How Should I Eat? (Not too much.).” This installment covers rules 61 through 63.

Oh, boy, we’re almost done with the rules! Check in next week for the last rule and a wrap-up.

Rule 61: Leave something on your plate.

This rule is often considered good manners. Often, in U.S. culture, cleaning your plate is considered declasse, which is interesting, because most of us as children were urged TO clean our plates and not to be wasteful. (Starving children in Africa and all that.) Pollan writes that leaving a little something on your plate helps you to eat less at any given meal and to develop self-restraint.

Personally, I suspect the rule about leaving something on your plate was developed to flatter a host — they served such a luxurious, generous meal that you could not possibly finish it! When eating at home, I would feel uncomfortable about planning to not finish my meal.

Instead, I suggest taking small servings, perhaps much smaller than you are used to, eating slowly, and then having a (small) second helping if you are still hungry. You’ll achieve the same goal — eating less — without wasting food. But of course, the best manners is to follow your host’s culture, if you are eating with others.

Rule 62: Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space, a window box if you don’t.

Or, “grow something.” By growing your own food, you’ll see the effort that is required to produce food, and the tiny miracle that is every fruit and vegetable. You’ll also get the freshest food possible, and spend a little time outside growing it.

Even growing fresh herbs in a pot on the windowsill will help — and growing fresh herbs is a big money saver (and plastic-saver) over buying them refrigerated at the grocery store.

Rule 63: Cook.

Cooking for yourself means you control what you eat. You get to choose the ingredients, the methods and the lack of unhealthy additives.

One reason I love cooking at home is that we can choose the things we want to eat — for instance, meat that is humanely raised — and know that once we have bought that ingredient, our meal becomes uncomplicated and guilt-free, as well as potentially healthier.

What if you aren’t a good cook?

Well, you aren’t going to get better by complaining about it. Take a class, read some cookbooks or blogs, ask a friend. (With modern technology, you can text for advice while you’re standing in the kitchen.) But mostly, try and see how it goes. I’ve been a pretty good cook for a long time. I’m starting to get to be a much better cook, more comfortable with improvising. But I’ve been cooking meals for more than 20 years now. Cooking is something that gets better and better with practice and experience — and I think it’s something a lot of people learn faster when they are adults.

Hey, if a cartoon rat can become a chef, you can cook. Get started with the real-life cookbook that probably inspired the Ratatouille rat, I Know How To Cook, the classic Joy of Cooking, or one from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything series (original, revised or vegetarian editions).

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