"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
So launched Michael Pollan's shot-heard-round-the-world essay in the New York Times a year ago. Talk about a pain-free and cost-free prescription for good health. No calories to count. No points to calculate. No meetings to attend. No food lists to memorize. No books to buy. No money-back satisfaction guarantees.
I can hear you thinking, It sure sounds simple. But is there devil in the details? What, exactly, does he mean? Let me walk us through the three mostly-simple concepts.
First, who's this Michael Pollan guy? He's the professor of environmental journalism at University of California-Berkeley who wrote the thought-provoking, highly readable (or in my case, listenable) book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which both The New York Times and Washington Post placed on Top 10 lists in 2006. Ugh. A book? Who can learn about eating from a book? Well, right. But we've all heard of the 1960s book Silent Spring and its affect on the environmental movement, right? A generation from now, I believe that The Omnivore's Dilemma will be to food what Silent Spring was to the environment. His book has had a profound effect on the thinking of many, many people, me included.
But okay, back to what Pollan means by "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Eat food. Food? Wow, how easy is that? Some diet, we can eat anything, right? Hold your tummy, Hungry, not quite. For health purposes, 'food' is more than something you chew and swallow. It's 'real food'. It's probably something you cooked yourself. It probably isn't served through a window. It probably isn't backed by a brand name or an advertising budget. (If it's a packaged 'food product', it's 'food' if the ingredient list is likely short, a handful maybe.) It's probably found on the perimeter of the grocery store, in the produce section, in the meat department and the dairy section. It's probably not frozen (unadorned frozen vegetables and fruits are exceptions). It's food our collective great-grandmothers from across the world would recognize.
Not too much. [giggle] Perfect! I'll eat one row of Oreos, not two. [giggle, giggle] Hold it, Hungry, you cookie monster, you! The definition of 'eating less' may be harder to define because of course, it most needs to reflect our individual circumstances. Our age and current weight and health -- all these affect our nutrition requirements. And frankly, eating fewer cookies and burgers and even dressing-laden and cheese-layered salads won't help, much. But "not too much" is also the easiest of the three to take action on this very moment, starting now, with the next bite. Just eat less! Take that lunch sandwich and slice off 10% before digging in. Share an entrée when out for dinner. (And okay, eat one Oreo not three.) Just eat less. Just eat less. Just eat less. And in time, we'll soon be eating not 'too much', too.
Mostly plants. What? No way. I'm not giving up my meat. Plus, don't they say that protein is better than carbs, anyway? Don't stress, we needn't give up meat to consume 'mostly' plants. But 'mostly' does mean more than half. Let's think: when was the last time a day's diet was more than half plant-based? (Vegetarians, this includes you, too. As a former vegetarian, I'm willing to bet the proportion is worse than you think.) And the plant world is so diverse -- think vegetables, think grains, think beans, think nuts, think rice, think fruit. Leave out dairy, meat and all the sweets and virtually all drinks. Are you eating 'mostly plants'? Likely not. But a plant-based diet is one to reach for.
IS THIS ALL A FAD?
So aren't all these diet things a fad, even if they're based on nutritional science? What, we should worry that eating vegetables and seeds and nuts and grains and beans and fruits will slip out of nutritional fashion like margarine? These foods come straight from the earth, not from some shelf. I think not.
MOSTLY PLANT RECIPE INSPIRATION
So you're in, right? Right. It sounds easy enough. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. This we can do.
Our Favorite Food Blogs A great place to start looking for recipes that are 'mostly plant' is with your own favorite food blogs, vegetarian or not, because a well-balanced omnivore diet includes (mostly? okay, we're not there yet) meatless meals. The best blogs identify their vegetarian and vegan recipes; if you don't find an archive listing, drop the blogger a private message (e-mail preferred, if an address is available) and ask for help identifying their favorite vegetarian dishes. If you're a food blogger yourself, I do encourage you to make it easy for your readers to find your best vegetarian and vegan recipes.
Vegetarian & Vegan Food Blogs To search for recipes on 200+ vegetarian and vegan blogs, check Vegetarian & Vegan Blog Search sponsored by Fatfree Vegan Kitchen. When you find one you especially like, check the sites in their blogrolls, chances are they'll be vegetarian too.
Cookbooks If you're the cookbook sort, there are hundreds of vegetarian cookbooks but one that inspires both vegetarians and meat-eaters is the great cross-over book by Deborah Madison, the 752-page Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Another explores the concept of moving vegetables from the sidelines to the 'center' of the plate, Patricia Wells' 2007 cookbook, Vegetable Harvest. I'm especially enamored with this book because each recipe includes nutrition analysis, a rarity.
Your Recommendations Is there a vegetarian food blog or website or cookbook you've learned to really rely on? Leave a link in the comments.
Michael Pollan's essay, Unhappy Meals, New York Times, January 28, 2007
The same seven words open Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
For a pan of Pollan's latest book, and the reasons why, read the review from Tigers & Strawberries.
For Saveur's interview with Michael Pollan, read The Plate Debate.
Michael Pollan's current speaking schedule to promote his new book, MichaelPollan.com