Atlantic Cities

An Illustrated 'Food Rules' for the Rest of Us

Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater's Manual is a pragmatic and utilitarian guide to healthy eating. It's no wonder it shot to the top spot of the New York Times bestseller list when first published in 2009. But—and I’m a huge fan of Pollan—the book, almost Zen-like in its simplicity (eat food, mostly plants) seemed to resonate most for those already obsessing over apple cultivars and quinoa. What about those of us who are still rather cozy with Hot Pockets and curly fries?

Well, Pollan has one-upped his own brilliance by inviting artist Maira Kalman to collaborate on a new edition of Food Rules, a move that has transformed his already super important slender manifesto into something wholly unexpected. If Food Rules #1 was broccoli, Food Rules 2.0 is a ripe strawberry, smile-inducing and inspired.

Kalman, who has brought both euphoria and melancholy to her audience with magical visual narratives about stuff you didn’t pay attention to in high school civics class, is the perfect foil to Pollan’s pragmatism. Though some of her suggested food rules didn’t make the cut (i.e. “The French fries on someone else’s plate carry no calories”) others transform what once felt a little like homework into something whimsical and inspirational. To wit: "Place a bouquet of flowers on the table and everything will taste twice as good.” The sense of pure joy her work imparts opens up a whole new audience for this essential guide.

OK, but now you’re asking—what the heck does this have to do with cities? More than you might think: I’m struck, in paging through the book, by how much easier it is to follow the proverbial rules if you’re living in a denser, more walkable neighborhood. Rule #16, for example: Go Food Shopping Every Week (the argument being you’ll buy fresher ingredients to cook with, and rely less on packaged and/or processed alternatives). An awful lot of city dwellers already shop this way, often by necessity: not only are local grocers and farmers markets more abundant, but stocking up at suburban-style warehouse clubs or big box stores is often just not possible. Similarly, there's Rule #22: It’s Not Food if It Arrived Through the Window of Your Car. It is apt to be food, however, if is passed through the window of one the food carts now ubiquitous in cities from Portland, OR to New York City. Such ubiquity leads to variety (Kung Fu Tacos, King of Currywurst, et al) supporting #48: Eat More Like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.

I won’t push the argument. Buy the book, revel in its beauty, and help continue and expand the conversation about how to eat. And hey, USDA, why not have Kalman take a stab at the long-suffering food pyramid?

Keywords: Food, Books, Food Trucks

Allison Arieff is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities. She writes a column about design and architecture for The New York Times and is editorial director of SPUR. All posts »

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