Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Food Rules and The Godfather of Kathmandu

The value of Food Rules by Michael Pollan far exceeds its slender size.

The book is 139 pages long. There may be more words in the introduction than in the entire text that follows. Some pages contain only an illustration; those with text may have only a sentence or a paragraph at the most.

This condensed approach is not without purpose. Pollan is interested in results. In Food Rules (more on that title later) he takes the seven-word guiding principle from In Defense of Food -- Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. -- and expands it to 64 rules. Pollan understands people will be more like to read the rules, and put them to work in their lives, if they are packaged in a way they can be easily consumed. He's stealing a page from the industrial food complex he dislikes so much.

Despite its small size, Food Rules is brimming with common sense and sound advice. The book is divided into three categories based on that seven-word principle listed above. The first section: Eat Food. The second: Not too much. And the third: Mostly plants.

In his introduction, Pollan recommends adopting at least one rule from each section. I found that's not so difficult to do. For example, in the first section one rule is to buy snacks from a farmer's market (16). I do. My favorite rule is found in that section: It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car (20). I don't have a lot of trouble following that guidance.

I do struggle with section two. I could eat more plants. But I do well with rule 32 -- don't overlook the oily little fishes -- because I am fond of sardines.

Among the rules in section three, I need to take the recommendation to eat more slowly (49) to heart. I have two brothers and we learned to bolt our food or you might leave the dinner table hungry. But, again, I find rules here I can live with: Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does (57) and Cook (63)

Food Rules is meant to be taken seriously, yet there is an element of fun here that shouldn't be overlooked. It's enjoyable to flip through the book -- it can be read in one brief sitting -- and identify the rules you follow now, the rules you'd like to follow and those that will really, really give you trouble.

Some of that fun is also found in the title. Food Rules can be taken literally. It is a set of rules to guide our selection, preparation and consumption of food. But it is also a declaration -- food rules!

If Food Rules whets your appetite for more try these earlier books by Pollan: In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma. Both are exceptionally good books.


My enthusiasm for John Burdett's Thai thrillers slipped a notch with his newest novel, The Godfather of Kathmandu.

Many of the ingredients that I enjoyed in the past books are present in this one: the exotic deaths, the descent into the Oriental drug and sex trade and the catty running commentary on our Western culture.

The exotic death is represented by a Hollywood filmmaker who is found eviscerated, the top of his skull removed and a small portion of his brains scooped out.

Even as detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep sets out to determine if this strange death is a murder or some eerie, intricate suicide, he is also caught up brokering a massive drug deal between a police colonel, an army general and a Tibetan mystic who intends to use the drug money to fund an invasion of China.

The Tibetan mystic is more distracting than diverting. Sonchai falls under his spell and sets out to seek spiritual development. This doesn't take up much of the novel, but it does slow it down. Burdett's three earlier Bangkok novels are better.

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