Pollan Plays the Blame Game

Writing at CBS Moneywatch, Joe Kita is skeptical of one ice cream brand’s new marketing strategy: touting that it only has five ingredients. Asked for his opinion, foodie king Michael Pollan happily obliges, saying: “It always had five ingredients. They just started boasting about it.” Catch the irony? Pollan himself has been a heavy promoter of the “five ingredients” rule. He should be the last person to complain when food companies cater to his fan base.

Pollan’s rule, “don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients,” is number two on his list behind “don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” In Pollan’s dogmatic world, where “only martyrs and lost souls have to shop at Safeway,” everything from blackened salmon (11 ingredients) to homemade cookies (11 ingredients) to potato salad (10 ingredients) must be kicked off the menu.

But what about foods you buy in the middle of the grocery store that Pollan scoffs at? Many of these have more than five ingredients and—cue the scary music—a few are hard to pronounce. Pollan wants us to avoid these too. And once again, his advice is silly. The Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of ingredients that it classifies as “Generally Recognized as Safe,” and yes, some are hard to pronounce. But there’s nothing wrong with them.

If these elitist “rules” seem ridiculous and oh-so-nineteenth-century, that’s because they are. Pollan released a whole book of them, called Food Rules, late last year. As you might expect, it’s just more of the same. The rules may sound nice, but we’ve discussed how the consequences of following them aren’t very appealing.

Naturally, Pollan is quick to point the finger when his own “rule” doesn't guarantee to make anyone healthier. “The food industry is incredibly clever at transforming any criticism of its practices into a new way to sell us more food,” he told CBS. If Pollan has a problem with marketing gimmicks, maybe he should revisit his own advice and stop creating overly simplistic “food rules” ad absurdum. But then, of course, he might not sell quite as many books.

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