Some Rules

April 4, 2010

After last week’s thoughts on Michael Pollan’s new book, it occurred to me that I do follow some Food Rules. Here is the main one:

Never eat anything bigger than your head.

This one comes to us from the work of visual philosopher B. Kliban. Kliban died in 1990, but he has a number of fans lurking about the internet. Rather than provide links, I suggest just typing his name into Google and then seeing what comes up. As food advice goes, this is pretty fundamental, but not necessarily something you will find either on the webpages maintained by corporate food giants such as Kellogg’s or McDonalds. Nor does it tend to get brought up by Alice Waters, Carlo Petrini or any other celebrity chef. Kliban followers certainly know it, but for the rest of you, remember that you heard it here first. But this is not the only food rule that I have accumulated over a lifetime of working on and thinking about food:

Always order the special.

This rule was passed on to me by D. Bruce Dickson, a professor of anthropology and religious studies at Texas A&M University. Dickson is not well known in food circles, so I suspect that most readers are latching on to this important piece of advice for the first time here, as well. Dickson always insisted that this was the only nomothetic regularity he had been able to verify during a lifetime of work on ritual and practice in various obscure cultures. I’m sure that the various robots who follow my blog and post comments will agree that this is a profound thought, capable of providing deep insight not only into dietary practice but also into the basis of food’s mysterious power to endow an otherwise arbitrary assemblage of human beings with the unifying rhythms of a natural community.

It’s better to look good than to feel good, my friend.

Not exactly a rule, of course, this maxim will, I’m sure be familiar to a much larger portion of the readership. It was the catch-phrase of Fernando Lamas, star of the 1980’s talk show Fernando’s Hideaway. “Saludos!” While I’m not sure what happened to Fernando or what he ate on a regular basis, I do recall that he looked marvelous.

What more can I say about food rules sitting here on Sunday afternoon trying to digest parts of three Italian pastries from Roma (down on North Cedar St. in Lansing)? I’m not saying that this is how anyone should eat every day, however much the pastry chef down there would like me to. And I won’t even try to reconcile this with Fernando’s motto. But there is that one last rule coined by Carl Sigman and Herb Magidson and popularized by the inimitable Guy Lombardo, which I think sums up the whole theme of this blog:

Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University