Thursday, July 8, 2010

Following the rules

Those of you familiar with my essays and especially my books know that I am a rules-based person.  After my first collection of essays, And Then Some: Essays to Entertain, Motivate, and Inspire, I immediately wrote the book, Public Speaking Rules: All You Need for a Great Speech.  I followed that rules-based book with a book entitled, SMOERs: Self-Motivation, Optimism, Encouragement Rules.  As if that wasn’t enough, I wrote an additional rules-based book entitled, Relationship Rules: For Long-term Happiness, Security, and Commitment. With all of this as a preface, it is little wonder that I would be attracted to a New York Times article by Jane E. Brody entitled, “Rules Worth Following, for Everyone’s Sake” (“Personal Health,” 02-02-10, p. D7). 

Now, I am familiar with Brody’s essays in the science section of the Times every Tuesday, and I have cited her numerous times in my textbooks, because she often writes about aspects of interpersonal relationships, verbal and nonverbal communication, and other facets of human behavior—all topics I discuss in my textbooks. 

In this essay I want to cover the same topics she covers in her essay.  I am deeply indebted to her for the ideas in this essay, and I give her full credit for them.    

Brody’s column is based on “a slender, easy-to-digest new book called Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual  (137 pages, $11 retail, $5.50 at Amazon) by Michael Pollan.”  Pollan is a professor of science journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.  Kristine Hale, in her four-star review of Pollan’s book at, writes, “Pollan takes the essential and fascinating information that he wrote about in his previous book [In Defense of Food: An Eaters Manifesto (256 pages, $7.50 at Amazon)] and simmers it down into a succinct (the book is basically 70 half pages long) ‘manual’ of rules for eating. While this book retains some of the bones of its predecessor, it is by no means a Cliff's Notes version. This manual is essential reading all on its own.” 

In her review of the book, Norma Lehmeierhartie tells how the Pollan book is organized: “The book is divided into three parts and has 64 chapters or rules. The following will give you a 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.’” 

Jesse Kornbluth, in his review of Pollan’s book, offers samples of some of his rules: “What does Pollan tell you in these pages? Here's a sample:
    --- ‘Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.’
    --- ‘Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.’
    ---- ‘Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot...There are exceptions --- honey --- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food.’
    --- ‘Always leave the table a little hungry.'
    --- ‘Eat meals together, at regular meal times.’
    --- ‘Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.’ 

There are three types of people who will not appreciate Pollan’s book.  First, those who have read his previous books will find this one redundant.  More than that, it is simply a distillation of and recycled verbatim from his previous book, In Defense of Food, referred to above.  Second, if you are already into food and nutrition, you will find much of what Pollan says, common sense—maybe even, elementary.  The third type of person who can skip this book and his previous one are those who simply adopt Pollan’s approach, which he summarized in just seven words: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  Obesity solved!  Diet-related ailments eliminated! 

There is only one reason I have provided these quotations from reviews of Pollan’s book.  I have not read it myself, and I am dependent on the Amazon reviews and  Brody for their interpretations and insights. 

Quoting from Brody’s column, “The new book provides the practical steps [for following his approach], starting with advice to avoid ‘processed concoctions,’ no matter what the label may claim (‘no trans fats,’ ‘low cholesterol,’ ‘less sugar,’ ‘reduced sodium,’ ‘high in antioxidants,’ and so forth).”  If you read his book, you will become accustomed to his cute way of phrasing his ideas.  For example, “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” 

“Avoid foods advertised on television.. . . Those who sell the most healthful foods—vegetables, fruits and whole grains—rarely have a budget to support national advertising.”  If you shop in a supermarket, “shop only the periphery of the store and avoid the center aisles laden with processed foods”. . . and “Never get your fuel from the same place your car does,” Pollan writes. 

Other valuable rules include, “If you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating, you’re likely to eat more than you realize,” or“Stop eating before you’re full,” “There is nothing wrong with special occasion foods, as long as every day is not a special occasion,” and the rule I love the best is Pollan’s “S policy”: “No snacks, no seconds, no sweets—except on days that begin with the letter S.”  There is clearly a reason why I’m rules-oriented—don’t you wish everyone was? 


If you think following rules is a new concept, or if you think rules are a modern idea, or if you think old rules do not apply, check out this web site:, and the essay there entitled “21 Rules to Live Your Life - Dokkodo.”  “Dokkodo” is a small book written by Miyamoto Musashi a week before he died in 1645.  1645!!!!!  Read these 21 rules.  They are terrific guidelines by which to form a very good life.  Just the first two examples: 1. Accept everything just the way it is, and 2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.  Also, this is not a simple listing; all rules are explained and discussed as well. 

If you want an entertaining, delightful, and challenging adventure, look at: “Life’s Rules of Thumb (and other quotes)” and you will discover an array of over 85 great quotations.  Some of the quotations (to offer but a mere sampling) that I liked include, “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.” Confucius.  Or, “People are basically honest. And they're even more honest when you watch them.” Alan C. "Ace" Greenberg.  Or, “Life at work is like a tree full of monkeys, all on different limbs at different levels. Some monkeys are climbing up, some down. The monkeys on top look down and see a tree full of smiling faces. The monkeys on the bottom look up and see nothing but arseholes.”  Anonymous.
You get just a fraction of the pleasure here that you will get by going to this web site. 


Copyright July, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to focus on things that can rot. Makes me hungry just thinking about it!


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