Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

by Michael Pollan


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#1 New York Times Bestseller

A definitive compendium of food wisdom

Eating doesn’t have to be so complicated. In this age of ever-more elaborate diets and conflicting health advice, Food Rules brings welcome simplicity to our daily decisions about food. Written with clarity, concision, and wit that has become bestselling author Michael Pollan’s trademark, this indispensable handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely, one per page, accompanied by a concise explanation. It’s an easy-to-use guide that draws from a variety of traditions, suggesting how different cultures through the ages have arrived at the same enduring wisdom about food. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this is the perfect guide for anyone who ever wondered, “What should I eat?”

"In the more than four decades that I have been reading and writing about the findings of nutritional science, I have come across nothing more intelligent, sensible and simple to follow than the 64 principles outlined in a slender, easy-to-digest new book called Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, by Michael Pollan."—Jane Brody, The New York Times

"The most sensible diet plan ever? We think it's the one that Michael Pollan outlined a few years ago: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So we're happy that in his little new book, Food Rules, Pollan offers more common-sense rules for eating: 64 of them, in fact, all thought-provoking and some laugh-out-loud funny."—The Houston Chronicle

" It doesn't get much easier than this. Each page has a simple rule, sometimes with a short explanation, sometimes without, that promotes Pollan's back-to-the-basics-of-food (and-food-enjoyment) philosophy."—The Los Angeles Times
"A useful and funny purse-sized manual that could easily replace all the diet books on your bookshelf."—Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times

Michael Pollan’s most recent book on food, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation—the story of our most trusted food expert’s culinary education—was published by Penguin Press in April 2013, and in 2016 it served as the inspiration for a four-part docuseries on Netflix by the same name.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143116387
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/29/2009
Pages: 139
Sales rank: 54,774
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Michael Pollan, recently featured on Netflix in the four-part series Cooked, is the author of seven previous books, including Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and The Botany of Desire, all New York Times bestsellers. A longtime contributor to The New York Times, he is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley. In 2010, Time magazine named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.


San Francisco Bay Area, California

Date of Birth:

February 6, 1955

Place of Birth:

Long Island, New York


Bennington College, Oxford University, and Columbia University

Read an Excerpt


Eating in our time has gotten complicated—needlessly so, in my opinion. I will get to the“needlessly”part in a moment, but consider first thecomplexity that now attends this most basic of creaturelyactivities. Most of us have come to rely on expertsof one kind or another to tell us how to eat—doctors anddiet books, media accounts of the latest findings innutritionalscience, government advisories and foodpyramids, the proliferating health claims on foodpackages. We may not always heed these experts’ advice,but their voices are in our heads every time we orderfrom a menu or wheel down the aisle in the supermarket.Also in our heads today resides an astonishingamount of biochemistry. How odd is it that everybodynow has at least a passing acquaintance with words like“antioxidant,” “saturated fat,” “omega-3 fatty acids,”“carbohydrates,” “polyphenols,” “folic acid,” “gluten,”and “probiotics”? It’s gotten to the point where we don’tsee foods anymore but instead look right through themto the nutrients (good and bad) they contain, and ofcourse to the calories—all these invisible qualities inour food that, properly understood, supposedly holdthe secret to eating well.

But for all the scientific and pseudoscientific foodbaggage we’ve taken on in recent years, we still don’tknow what we should be eating. Should we worry moreabout the fats or the carbohydrates? Then what aboutthe “good” fats? Or the “bad” carbohydrates, like highfructosecorn syrup? How much should we be worryingabout gluten? What’s the deal with artificial sweeteners?Is it really true that this breakfast cereal willimprovemy son’s focus at school or that other cerealwill protect me from a heart attack? And when dideating a bowl of breakfast cereal become a therapeuticprocedure?

A few years ago, feeling as confused as everyoneelse, I set out to get to the bottom of a simple question:What should I eat? What do we really know about thelinks between our diet and our health? I’m not a nutritionexpert or a scientist, just a curious journalisthoping to answer a straightforward question for myselfand my family.

Most of the time when I embark on such an investigation,it quickly becomes clear that matters are muchmore complicated and ambiguous—several shadesgrayer—than I thought going in. Not this time. Thedeeper I delved into the confused and confusingthicket of nutritional science, sorting through thelong-running fats versus carbs wars, the fiber skirmishesand the raging dietary supplement debates, thesimpler the picture gradually became. I learned that infact science knows a lot less about nutrition than youwould expect—that in fact nutrition science is, to putit charitably, a very young science. It’s still trying tofigure out exactly what happens in your body when yousip a soda, or what is going on deep in the soul of acarrot to make it so good for you, or why in the worldyou have so many neurons—brain cells!—in your stomach,of all places. It’s a fascinating subject, and somedaythe field may produce definitive answers to thenutritional questions that concern us, but—as nutritioniststhemselves will tell you—they’re not there yet.Not even close. Nutrition science, which after all onlygot started less than two hundred years ago, is todayapproximately where surgery was in the year 1650—verypromising, and very interesting to watch, but are youready to let them operate on you? I think I’ll wait awhile.But if I’ve learned volumes about all we don’t knowabout nutrition, I’ve also learned a small number ofvery important things we do know about food andhealth. This is what I meant when I said the picture gotsimpler the deeper I went.

There are basically two important things you needto know about the links between diet and health, twofacts that are not in dispute. All the contending partiesin the nutrition wars agree on them. And, even moreimportant for our purposes, these facts are sturdyenough that we can build a sensible diet upon them.

Here they are:

Fact 1. Populations that eat a so-called Western diet—generally defined as a diet consisting of lots of processedfoods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lotsof refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables,fruits, and whole grains—invariably suffer from highrates of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, type 2diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Virtuallyall of the obesity and type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of thecardiovascular disease, and more than a third of allcancers can be linked to this diet. Four of the top tenkillers in America are chronic diseases linked to thisdiet. The arguments in nutritional science are notabout this well-established link; rather, they are allabout identifying the culprit nutrient in the Westerndiet that might be responsible for chronic diseases. Isit the saturated fat or the refined carbohydrates or thelack of fiber or the transfats or omega-6 fatty acids—orwhat? The point is that, as eaters (if not as scientists),we know all we need to know to act: This diet, for whateverreason, is the problem.

Fact 2. Populations eating a remarkably wide rangeof traditional diets generally don’t suffer from thesechronic diseases. These diets run the gamut from onesvery high in fat (the Inuit in Greenland subsist largelyon seal blubber) to ones high in carbohydrate (CentralAmerican Indians subsist largely on maize and beans)to ones very high in protein (Masai tribesmen in Africasubsist chiefly on cattle blood, meat, and milk), to citethree rather extreme examples. But much the sameholds true for more mixed traditional diets. What thissuggests is that there is no single ideal human diet butthat the human omnivore is exquisitely adapted to awide range of different foods and a variety of differentdiets. Except, that is, for one: the relatively new (inevolutionary terms) Western diet that most of us noware eating. What an extraordinary achievement for acivilization: to have developed the one diet that reliablymakes its people sick! (While it is true that wegenerally live longer than people used to, or than peoplein some traditional cultures do, most of our addedyears owe to gains in infant mortality and child health,not diet.)

There is actually a third, very hopeful fact thatflows from these two: People who get off the Westerndiet see dramatic improvements in their health. Wehave good research to suggest that the effects of theWestern diet can be rolled back, and relatively quickly.*In one analysis, a typical American population that departedeven modestly from the Western diet (and lifestyle)could reduce its chances of getting coronaryheart disease by 80 percent, its chances of type 2 diabetesby 90 percent, and its chances of colon cancer by70 percent.*

* For a discussion of the research on the Western diet and itsalternatives see my previous book, In Defense of Food (NewYork: Penguin Press, 2008). Much of the science behind therules in this book can be found there.

Yet, oddly enough, these two (or three) sturdy factsare not the center of our nutritional research or, forthat matter, our public health campaigns around diet.Instead, the focus is on identifying the evil nutrient inthe Western diet so that food manufacturers mighttweak their products, thereby leaving the diet undisturbed,or so that pharmaceutical makers might developand sell us an antidote for it. Why? Well, there’sa lot of money in the Western diet. The more you processany food, the more profitable it becomes. The healthcareindustry makes more money treating chronicdiseases(which account for three quarters of the $2trillion plus we spend each year on health care in thiscountry) than preventing them. So we ignore the elephantin the room and focus instead on good and evilnutrients, the identities of which seem to change withevery new study. But for the Nutritional IndustrialComplex this uncertainty is not necessarily a problem,because confusion too is good business: The nutritionexperts become indispensable; the food manufacturerscan reengineer their products (and health claims)to reflect the latest findings, and those of us in themedia who follow these issues have a constant streamof new food and health stories to report. Everyone wins.Except, that is, for us eaters.

* The diet specified in this analysis is characterized by a lowintake of transfats; a high ratio of polyunsaturated fats to saturatedfats; a high whole-grain intake; two servings of fish aweek; the recommended daily allowance of folic acid; and atleast five grams of alcohol a day. The lifestyle changes includenot smoking, maintaining a body mass index (BMI) below 25,and thirty minutes a day of exercise. As the author Walter Willettwrites, “[T]he potential for disease prevention by modestdietary and lifestyle changes that are readily compatible withlife in the 21st century is enormous.” “The Pursuit of OptimalDiets: A Progress Report,” Nutritional Genomics: Discovering thePath to Personalized Nutrition, eds. Jim Kaput and Raymond L.Rodriguez (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2006).

As a journalist I fully appreciate the value of widespreadpublic confusion: We’re in the explanationbusiness, and if the answers to the questions we exploregot too simple, we’d be out of work. Indeed, I hada deeply unsettling moment when, after spending acouple of years researching nutrition for my last book,In Defense of Food, I realized that the answer to the supposedlyincredibly complicated question of what weshould eat wasn’t so complicated after all, and in factcould be boiled down to just seven words:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This was the bottom line, and it was satisfying tohave found it, a piece of hard ground deep down at thebottom of the swamp of nutrition science: seven wordsof plain English, no biochemistry degree required. Butit was also somewhat alarming, because my publisherwas expecting a few thousand more words than that.Fortunately for both of us, I realized that the story ofhow so simple a question as what to eat had ever gottenso complicated was one worth telling, and that becamethe focus of that book.

The focus of this book is very different. It is muchless about theory, history, and science than it is aboutour daily lives and practice. In this short, radicallypared-down book, I unpack those seven words of adviceinto a comprehensive set of rules, or personal policies,designed to help you eat real food in moderation and,by doing so, substantially get off the Western diet. Therules are phrased in everyday language; I deliberatelyavoid the vocabulary of nutrition or biochemistry,though in most cases there is scientific research toback them up.

This book is not antiscience. To the contrary, inresearching it and vetting these rules I have made gooduse of science and scientists. But I am skeptical of a lotof what passes for nutritional science, and I believethat there are other sources of wisdom in the world andother vocabularies in which to talk intelligently aboutfood. Human beings ate well and kept themselveshealthy for millennia before nutritional science camealong to tell us how to do it; it is entirely possible to eathealthily without knowing what an antioxidant is.So whom did we rely on before the scientists (and,in turn, governments, public health organizations,and food marketers) began telling us how to eat? Werelied of course on our mothers and grandmothers andmore distant ancestors, which is another way of saying,on tradition and culture. We know there is a deepreservoirof food wisdom out there, or else humanswould not have survived and prospered to the extentwe have. This dietary wisdom is the distillation of anevolutionary process involving many people in manyplaces figuring out what keeps people healthy (andwhat doesn’t), and passing that knowledge down in theform of food habits and combinations, manners andrules and taboos, and everyday and seasonal practices,as well as memorable sayings and adages. Are thesetraditions infallible? No. There are plenty of old wives’tales about food that on inspection turn out to be littlemore than superstitions. But much of this food wisdomis worth preserving and reviving and heeding. That isexactly what this book aims to do.

Food Rules distills this body of wisdom into sixtyfoursimple rules for eating healthily and happily. Therules are framed in terms of culture rather than science,though in many cases science has confirmedwhat culture has long known; not surprisingly, thesetwo different vocabularies, or ways of knowing, oftencome to the same conclusion (as when scientistsrecentlyconfirmed that the traditional practice ofeating tomatoes with olive oil is good for you, becausethe lycopenein the tomatoes is soluble in oil, making iteasier for your body to absorb). I have also avoided talkingmuch about nutrients, not because they aren’t important,but because focusing relentlessly on nutrientsobscures other, more important truths about food.

Foods are more than the sum of their nutrient parts,and those nutrients work together in ways that are stillonly dimly understood. It may be that the degree towhich a food is processed gives us a more importantkey to its healthfulness: Not only can processingremove nutrients and add toxic chemicals, but it makesfood more readily absorbable, which can be a problemfor our insulin and fat metabolism. Also, the plasticsin which processed foods are typically packaged canpresent a further risk to our health. This is why manyof the rules in this book are designed to help you avoidheavily processed foods—which I prefer to call “ediblefoodlike substances.”


Excerpted from "Food Rules"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Michael Pollan.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"In the more than four decades that I have been reading and writing about the findings of nutritional science, I have come across nothing more intelligent, sensible and simple to follow than the 64 principles outlined in a slender, easy-to-digest new book called Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, by Michael Pollan." —Jane Brody, The New York Times

"The most sensible diet plan ever? We think it's the one that Michael Pollan outlined a few years ago: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So we're happy that in his little new book, Food Rules, Pollan offers more common-sense rules for eating: 64 of them, in fact, all thought-provoking and some laugh-out-loud funny." —The Houston Chronicle

" It doesn't get much easier than this. Each page has a simple rule, sometimes with a short explanation, sometimes without, that promotes Pollan's back-to-the-basics-of-food (and-food-enjoyment) philosophy." —The Los Angeles Times

"A useful and funny purse-sized manual that could easily replace all the diet books on your bookshelf." —Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times

Customer Reviews

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Food Rules 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 475 reviews.
Tev More than 1 year ago
The book itself is probably fine, but the ebook version has not been formatted properly. Spaces appear randomly in the middle of words, and other words run together. Penguin Books apparently doesn't believe in quality control.
SaraCharm More than 1 year ago
Well, I bought this ebook to have on my nook. It downloaded properly into my B&N library, but won't even open in the nook. Tried over several days, let battery drain, archived/unarchived it, rebooted nook, and downloaded it a couple of times. Bummer. 5 dollar training seminar on which publishers to be wary of.
NormaHartie More than 1 year ago
I picked up Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, because I have been searching for just this type of book for many of my clients as a New Year's gift. I read the slim book quickly in a bookstore and it is the perfect present for my clients who are not eating healthy diets (but who have confessed they wish to.) I am an interior designer/organizer and see how my clients eat all the time when I redesign and organize their kitchens. Pollan's In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma are both excellent, but can be intimidating. Not Food Rules--it is short and easy to understand. The book is divided into three parts and has 64 chapters or rules. The following will give you an good idea of what the book is about: Part I, What should I eat? Includes such chapters as "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food", "avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients", and "avoid foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup". Part II, What kind of food should I eat? Includes "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves", "eat your colors", and "the whiter the bread, the sooner you will be dead." Part III, How should I eat? Includes "pay more, eat less," "eat less," and "limit your snacks to unprocessed plant food." For those of you who desire a healthier diet, Food Rules is a terrific guide that makes understanding what to put into your body simple to understand and implement. Finally, if healthy eating is a new concept for you, you will find the clever chapter titles easy to memorize, thus making the concept of healthy eating a simple one to learn. Highly recommend. By the author of the award winning book, Harmonious Environment: Beautify, Detoxify & Energize Your Life, Your Home & Your Planet.
carmenKline More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be a great read, well written and informative. But it is not really a diet, it is about living healthier. Recommended.
FitnessAuthor More than 1 year ago
As a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist, I am constantly being asked if this or that book is good. So, I read A LOT of fitness and diet/nutrition books. Many have "pearls" that the reader can take and use---even if they aren't a 100% great book. I REALLY like Mr. Pollan's book. It is very easy to read, very practical, user-friendly and most of all I really like that it is not filled with "fillers" or nonsense like many fad diet books are. This isn't so much even a diet book, as just a great reference from which to learn about practical, healthy a fun way. So, definitely pick this up. One of the only books that I like better than this, and actually give to ALL of my training clients is: "Build Your Mind, Your Body Will Follow". That book, which is an easy read, helps you focus on yourself, understand proper motivation and puts the reader on the course to accomplishing any fitness goal they identify!! So, if you are about to diet, read "Build Your Mind, Your Body Will Follow" first.
NJMetal More than 1 year ago
Food Rules is not a book so much as a pocket guide. For the life of me I don't believe anyone would seriously tuck it into their pocket as a reference while food shopping. Within it's covers is 64 "rules" that Pollan offeres up to help people discern real food from, as he calls them, edible foodlike substinces. They are not rules so much as personal policies or guideline to keep in mind before you put food in you mouth. I'm sure that this book will be of great benefit to many... (show more) Food Rules is not a book so much as a pocket guide. For the life of me I don't believe anyone would seriously tuck it into their pocket as a reference while food shopping. Within it's covers is 64 "rules" that Pollan offeres up to help people discern real food from, as he calls them, edible foodlike substinces. They are not rules so much as personal policies or guideline to keep in mind before you put food in you mouth. I'm sure that this book will be of great benefit to many people. Unfortunatly if you arewell versed in Michael Pollan's previous works, particularly In Defence of Food and The Omnivore's Dilema, you will find this a boring regurgitation of that material. Nothing new for the students of Pollan I'm afraid to say. Also having watched most interviews with Pollan on YouTube regarding the release of this book, you find that somewhere in the order of 75% of the material had been discussed already. This is most likely useful for those who are unfamiliar with Michael Pollan's previous work.
BladeGirl More than 1 year ago
This is not a diet book or a fad, but an approach to eating that is simple, healthy sensical. In it, Pollan expands on his three "rules" for food: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." That has got to be the simplest diet ever proposed. But what is "food"? How much is "not too much"? And why mostly plants? Pollan's book, divided into three sections matching the three rules provide easy-to-remember rules of thumb to apply the next time you are reaching for that candy bar. I got the ebook version, and having it with me is a good reference for reminders while traveling, and I found the ebook format ideal for this book. I will note, however, errors in the digital text. It looks like they scanned the book in and didn't use a human to check that everything got translated to digital correctly.
Risinfenix More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge advocate for home cooking and eating real food (as in not processed food). We've all heard that Americans eat too much fat, salt and sugar...but that is what corporate America sells to us, and that is what we buy. Processed food (corporate made food) is cheap and easy to get, but it's making us sick! Each of us is responsible for what we allow into our bodies, but unless we are educated, how can we know what is right for us? This book really breaks it down into the lowest common denominator. Anyone with just a little time can read this book and come away with some useful ideas to get back on track. Easy to understand and good.
islandgirl21 More than 1 year ago
We definitely know food rules a lot of the time. The secret is to know that and turn the tables so we rule. Bought this book just because thought it would be a reinforcement of the right things to remember before you had that extra something. Was surprised at how informative it was. We know a lot of these facts but conveniently forget them. My goal will be to have Food Rules nearby each day to remind me of the right choices to make.
WonderElf More than 1 year ago
This book is simple, informative, inspiring and, at times, humorous. It is a stripped-down version of Mr. Pollan's other books, specifically the "Omnivore's Dilemma," I believe. In any case, I appreciate that this book provides bare-bones information without all the science and back-up theories rhetoric. It's just what I was looking for and didn't even know it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book didn't tell me anything that was new or original. I didn't really find it very helpful. Would not recommend.
DaphnePB More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book for anyone who desires a greater knowledge and awareness to our American diet. The author takes our blinders off and uncovers the role of corporations that have manipulated our diets for their monetary gains at the cost of our long term health. Short, one page doses that uncover the information that we need to eat healthfully and responsibly all dished out with humor and thoughtfulness. Michael Pollan is on a crusade to make Americans aware of what is occurring at our grocery stores and factories and offers the information in order for the reader to make intellectual choices.
Senona More than 1 year ago
Going back to the basics. Good read, short and simple. Some really good rules for the grocery store.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of the information in this book is common knowledge. Not worth buying.
QuiltingGail More than 1 year ago
My doctor recommended (no, actually, she insisted) that I get this book. It is a fast read and the rules are common sense. The author makes no pretense to having any scientific background in this field, but he has clearly done his homework. While all of the rules may not be applicable to daily life for everyone, most of them will contribute to a healthy life style without drifting into the extremism that is seen in so many eating "plans." Many of the rules are sufficiently succinct that the reader can remember and apply them without continuously referring to the text. Definitely a refreshing change from the wreckage of so many fads, trends and discredited theories in the nutrition book field.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantasticly simple read that rings wise and true from every page.
Mr_Whitaker More than 1 year ago
Clear, simple and useful. This book inspires me.
BookChick79 More than 1 year ago
I liked the set-up of the book and the simple way the author explains the items he addresses. He breaks down the 64 rules into his three step eating better plan. He makes it easy for everyone to follow the simple steps to eating better for you foods. This is not a diet plan - which I like - it is a plan for eating healthier, better foods for your body. I recommend it highly for anyone looking for simple ways to eat better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are looking into changing your life to a healthier lifestyle this is a book for you. The rules are simple to follow and easy to memorize. After following the rules for a short time you will notice a difference.
Elizabeth_Readwell More than 1 year ago
It is a nice quick read with some helpful tips on what to eat and how to buy food. I don't think everyone can live by every single rule, but alot of them make sense and are pretty common sense.
JackHarkness More than 1 year ago
A short read of easy to remember quips to guide you to healthy food choices while at the grocery store. Great coffee table read. I plan to read his more popular book soon: The Omnivore's Dilemma. Can't wait.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This slender volume of wisdom is a great reminder of how to truly look at food. It is also a great primer for people who are curious on how to take better care of themselves through what they eat.
newsgirlLA More than 1 year ago
Some of these rules are so obvious you'd think someone would have thought of them sooner. This is a great compliation of common sense that, if followed, has the potential to make us all healthier people. I have recently stopped eating meat and have begun to eat only "whole" foods (ie: not processed) and this book has been a great help. We live in a country full of beautiful packaging and low-fat, low-carb options and yet we are getting bigger and bigger. This isn't a diet book, it's a lifestyle book. It won't tell you what to eat and what not to eat by product name, but if you follow even some of these rules I'm sure you'll begin to be healthier.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a simple, easy read and perfect for those beginning to realize that what we put into our bodies really does make a difference and matter. It's not profound but definitely an excellent starting place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this as a gift for someone that had read, and enjoyed, Pollan's "In Defense of Food." What I didn't realize is that there is basically no new information in "Food Rules." That is the only reason I'm not giving this 5 stars... I feel it is a little sneaky to pass this off as a 'new' book. That being said, "Food Rules" is still a handy and accessible resource, and I would recommend it (whether the reader is familiar with Pollan's other works or not.) It is much more approachable than "In Defense of Food" due to its length, price, and simple construction.