Michael Pollan's digestible, 65-page pamphlet, "Food Rules," made a splash that rippled out to the farthest reaches of the culinary world, setting the "Eat Local" movement in motion. It's arguable that the popularity of his small, frank book, which preached simplicity, caught on because we needed it. But Pollan wasn't the first to decry the unfortunately complex nature of our nation's food consumption -- it's been going on since the 1800s, if not earlier.
"Christianity in the Kitchen: A Physiological Cookbook," written in 1858 by Mrs. Horace Mann, preaches many of Pollan's points, albeit for very different reasons. The entire book is a gem, especially the introduction, which includes its own set of food rules that, although based on dubious science and some serious finger-wagging, aren't so different from Pollan's. There are, of course, some strange and hilarious exceptions.
Dietary restrictions are present in most religions, and there's a plethora of cookbooks out there that accommodate those needs. Still, the tone of modern religious cookbooks seems to be reader-friendly and not at all dogmatic. Christian cookbook "Come to the Table" praises "the gift of daily nourishment"; "The What Would Jesus Eat? Cookbook" takes on a similarly stern yet upbeat approach.
"Christianity in the Kitchen" is not that kind of book. Mrs. Horace Mann begins with an epigraph from the book of Kings: "There's death in the pot." She goes on to say that, "there is no such prolific cause of bad morals as abuses of diet." Don't worry, though! Food can be "luscious" even when "injurious ingredients" are avoided. Foods regarded by Mann as injurious include rich turtle soup, suet plum-puddings, wedding cakes, and alcohol, the greatest offender of all.
I've compiled a list of some of Mann's "food rules," both incredible and absurd:
"An interval of at least five hours should elapse between meals for adults."
The reason for this is more religious than dietary, as the time in between meals is meant to be a period of fasting.
"The more simply it is cooked, the more easily it is digested."
This sounds familiar.
"The pineapple is dangerous when imported..."
This is Mann's way of telling her readers to eat local produce, a rule I can definitely get behind. Her reasoning, though, is a little odd. According to Mann: "Science may at last bring us to the conclusion that each climate and region produces those articles of food which it is most healthful to eat in their respective localities."
"Pie-crust and other shortened articles of food are almost wholly indigestible."
Here, Mann goes on to describe the issues with a gluten-rich diet. Her solution?: "Pastry may be made very delicate by substituting well boiled potato for a portion of the flour." Yuck.
"Ice-water is not injurious when taken with a meal, but half an hour after a meal it is very dangerous."
"I have the highest respect for butter."
!!! This is a weird departure from her otherwise super-strict instructions, but I'm not complaining.
"Much has been said by many physiological writers against the use of animal food. To their arguments we may reply, that fibrin and albumen, which are the chief constituents of muscle, are also the chief constituents of vegetables, and that it is the graminivorous animals which feed upon vegetables that constitute our animal food.
Mann makes an argument against strict vegetarianism, but suggests that a diet rich in grains and protein accompanied by occasional meat is ideal. This sounds a lot like Pollan's rule that "flexivores" are as healthy as vegetarians.
Oddly, she does advise against eating pork, due to the messy nature of pigs raised on farms. Mann writes, "It has been asserted that even the grown animal has a natural love for cleanliness, but being very near-sighted, and left to its own resources in a false state of society, it cannot afford to be particular about its food."
"It is always preferable to take ice-creams before a meal."
I agree! But again, Mann's facts are tenuous. Apparently lowering the stomach's temperature by eating cold foods after a meal makes digestion an impossible nightmare. This information was obviously obtained when an early gastric scientist performed experiments on a man with a hole in his stomach.