To coincide with the publication of his new book Cooked, we asked Michael Pollan for his Rules for Eating Out.
1. Too good to waste: Determine your own portion size, no matter how much you’re served. Restaurants serve supersize portions to make you feel you’re getting your money’s worth. Often it’s enough for another serving. So ask them to wrap it to go–in which case you will be getting your money’s worth.
2. Eat with the seasons: Don’t eat at restaurants that serve asparagus all year round. (Or strawberries, peaches, or apricots.) The chef’s not paying attention to the seasons, and it’s unlikely the food will be special.
3. Small suppliers: The smaller the delivery truck out back, the better the food inside will be. If a restaurant is getting its ingredients delivered by semi-trailer [or whatever you call a giant lorry], the food is apt to be undistinguished
4. Genuine traceability: Look on the menu for the names of specific farms, not meaningless generic pastoral terms like ‘farm eggs’, which means nothing.
5. Go with the specials: If there are daily specials, order them. Usually means fresh ingredients and a thoughtful preparation. But if the waiter doesn’t tell you the price, ask– sometimes specials carry special prices as well.
6. Rarely order well done steaks: When ordering meat, especially steaks, never ask for well done: chefs typically serve the gnarliest pieces of meat to people who order well-done, either out of a lack of respect or because overcooking covers a multitude of problems. They serve the nicest cuts to patrons who order rare. If you really want well done, order it rare and then send it back for more cooking.
7. Ask where your meat’s from: Don’t eat meat in restaurants unless the menu specifies that the animals were sustainably and humanely raised. In the case of ruminants, look for terms like grass-finished or pasture-raised.
Michael Pollan is a leading light of the sustainable food movement, and famously wrote Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual a few years ago.