Michael Pollan's simple secrets to better eating

Best-selling author Michael Pollan talks about real food, his new book, and why grandma was right

Margo True

What inspired your new book, In Defense of Food ?

It grew out of my last book, The Omnivore's Dilemma . Readers were saying, 'Okay, you're telling me where my food comes from, and I'm kind of alarmed to hear this. Now how do I eat?' So I came up with a couple of rules that don't tell you what to eat but how to think about eating.

A few of the rules:

Don't eat any food your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. And these seven words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

How do you define "food"?

I have a very simple food pyramid. There's food, and then there's processed food. I cut out all the processed food, so my pyramid is more of a stump. How can you tell when something is heavily processed? If it has more than five ingredients, it's probably not food.

What's better, eating organic or eating local?

It's a false choice. We should be striving to have both. Many small local farms are organic in everything but name; they've simply chosen not to be certified organic by the government.

How does the average person afford farmers' market produce?

Shop strategically. Buy things at the height of the season. There are a couple of weeks when tomatoes are really cheap.

What about growing your own food?

I just put in my garden last spring. I ripped out my front lawn and put in vegetables. I grew string beans, carrots, broccoli, three different kinds of kale, cucumbers, lots of herbs, potatoes, chard. And this garden is only 10 by 20. The most local food of all is food you grow yourself.

What did you eat for breakfast today?

Whole-wheat toast and a persimmon scone, which I split with my wife, from the farmers' market. I had the toast with bright yellow butter ― from Jersey cows ― that I also got at the farmers' market. It was delicious.

If you stress quality in your food, you don't need as much quantity to be satisfied. A little butter goes a long way if it's really good.