This journalist describes her week spent following Michael Pollan’s advice not to eat anything your grandma wouldn’t recognize as food. She discovers, however, that a Grandma-friendly diet may not necessarily be a healthful one. Perhaps not everyone’s Grandma raised free range cattle, served with a side of garden vegetables.

For those, like myself, inclined to follow Pollan wholeheartedly and return to the more natural diets of the past, this is a somewhat comical reminder of the blessings of salad and apples.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. He doesn’t mean that your grandmother had it available to her, just that it would look like chicken or a vegetable… as opposed to a chicken nugget, or veggie snack stix.

  2. Yeah. . . pioneer-type food in the nineteenth century does tend to be less focused on nutrients and pleasure of taste (unless you grow up on it, I suppose), and more on getting the men enough energy to work for more food. I discovered this on a living history farm when I learned how to use the cast-iron stove. 🙂

  3. The idea drilled into the heads of the Baby Boomer Generation that Margarine was a suitable substitution for butter resulted in one of the most gullible people in all history. Once they got you used to Margarine, then they foisted that satanic goo known as “Low Fat Mayonnaise” on a population that , at this point, would eat a Mouldering Crow’s Wing if it came from a fancy package with ingredients properly listed.

    “Bubbles and Squeak” ehh Medaille…? a fine concoction, with a little “Bits and Bobs” sprinkled alongside. Just don’t ask what them “Bits” is and never ever inquire as to the source of the “Bobs”.

  4. Pollan’s advice is not to eat anything your grandma wouldn’t recognize as food … not eat what Grandma ate. The difference may be subtle, but it is also crucial. The linked article (while amusing and perfect for generating chuckles and comments in the 21st C. version of a newspaper’s “lifestyle” section) managed to avoid the serious issues Pollan addresses. Grandma may well have had oatmeal porridge swimming in cream every morning for breakfast. She would, however, have no difficulty identifying a bowl of fruit and yogurt … or bacon and eggs … or whole wheat pancakes … or, for that matter, a bowl of rice and beans if that’s what you like to start your day … as food. Poptarts, however, would probably flummox Granny. As for butter, perhaps our forebears ate more of it than we might choose to consume today. Pollan isn’t advising us to consume a pound of butter every couple of days; he IS suggesting that concoctions made of hydrogenated oils and various polysyllabic ingredients are unlikely to be better alternatives. Frankly, the linked article seemed more designed to make instant ramen noodles sound tasty and worthy of eating … at the expense of oatmeal and butter. Sorry, but please pass me that bowl of porridge.

  5. One of my grandmas grew up in Belle, Missouri, kept chickens in the yard, and died at 72 of “hardened arteries”. The other grew up in NYC, lived in apartments and had domestic help most of her life, and died at 100. Both ate a lot of butter and salt.

    Aside from genes, the difference might be that the 72-year model cooked everything Southern style (i.e. fried), while the 100-year model ate mostly German food, boiled and baked.

  6. Back in college, a friend of ours’ mother would come once a semester and cook us all (about 12 of us) breakfast. She used at least 12 sticks of butter among the dishes. At least one for each of us. It was delicious.

  7. For some of us, and I suspect for you, Rachel, Pollan’s grandmother would actually be our great-grandmother. I think he mentions this at one point; the generation that would be our grandmothers would already have been serving canned pears, jello salad, velveeta cheese, and margarine. I know mine would have (maybe not margarine).
    So it would be wise to think a little further back when trying to follow Pollan’s Food Rules, or think about a traditional grandmother who would simmer stews on the stove for hours every day, rather than the ones who were serving white bread and spam and then going to work.

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