Michael Pollan Wants You to Eat Food

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Some people want to be told what to eat. Ever get asked about "the Slow Food diet?" I do. Countless times I've explained that there is no slow food diet, that it's not meant to be a dogmatic philosophy. But this doesn't stop well-intentioned people from wanting someone to spoon feed them a rubric by which they can figure out what the heck to eat. People, it seems, are overwhelmed and confused.

On The Daily Show last night, Jon Stewart asked Michael Pollan to distill the 64 rules from his new book Food Rules, down to one simple statement. "Eat food," Pollan replied with a smile. They both chuckled.

Some might wonder: if it's that simple, why does Pollan keep popping out books like this? Why write a "short, radically pared down book" (his words) full of rules? As he explains in his introduction, the 64 rules are basically 64 short paths back to "eat food." This book clearly speaks to overwhelmed and confused folks, not to Pollan's faithful readers and acolytes who, by now I presume, are starting to understand the larger picture of our food system.

Pollan is the master of communication, and he somehow manages to produce a list that is decidedly not dogmatic, full of cultural expressions rather than scientific suggestions. Many are retreads. For example, if you read "Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," you won't find much new to chew on. But this book has great potential to reach a broader audience. It is, as Jon Stewart described it, "fun-sized." It's small, easy to palm, and easy to understand. It's organized into three sections that act as tiers of engagement: section 1 tells you what to eat ("food," remember?). Once you're eating that way, section 2 can help you figure out which foods to consume. Finally, section 3 tells you how to eat them -- and "chew" isn't an exaggeration. A bunch of them come down to chewing and it helps you realize just how far many Americans have traveled from the whole process we call eating.