Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Micheal Pollan

Ah, what to have for dinner? A timeless question asked by millions of people, millions of times throughout their lives. This particular question drives me nuts, and one that Michael Pollan explores here with enthusiastic, well-driven abandon. Speed vs. reality (McDonalds or the grocery store)? Organic or practical (expensive or cheap)? Meat or no meat? So many choices, so little time. I agree with Pollan. We do have a national eating disorder.

In trying to reconnect with what he eats, this author follows the long trip from the soil to our mouths, discussing where our food comes from in three sections: corn, pastoral grass, and the forest.

Corn it turns out, that wildly successful plant, has found its way into cow feed, our soda pop, virtually every other type of processed food, and most especially, us. As much as a quarter of everything we eat has some form of corn in it. We have more of that vegetable in us than the tortilla-eating South Americans.

The American monoculture of corn has pushed aside what we once thought of the family farm, the farms of my parents growing up in Idaho and Oregon. A farm that is self-sustaining and efficient in every way. In Pastoral Grass we learn that these farms recycle and reuse. Nothing is wasted. Cows eat what nature intended them to eat. Shopping locally is the only way these small farms survive.

In his last section, The Forest, Pollan follows our evolutionary trial back to our earliest forms of obtaining food: hunting and gathering. By rejoining this “shortest and oldest of food chains,” he hoped to take some more “direct responsibility” for the killing of the animals he eats. To discover what connections exist between us and the species and natural systems we depend on for survival.

I love science and ecology so for me, overall, I thought this a fascinating book. Pollan clearly has a gift for explaining natural science in an enthusiastic enough way for everyone to understand. The writing is crisp, clear, and very entertaining. And most of all, because of his easy writing style, and even though I don’t eat meat, I found it all very convincing. Yes, buying locally can be more expensive, but by helping local farmers, by growing our own food and making wise decisions at the grocery, we are investing not just in our health, but in the future of the planet as well. Hopefully my guilt will now set me free. 4 Stars.


hamilcar barca said...

is Pollan advocating a return to the hunter-gatherer days? i for one have no desire to bond with the animals that become my quarter-pounder with cheese and tuna sandwiches.

L said...

Actually no, more like a grand food experiment, and in the end he releases a pretty heavy - it's okay to eat animals that are killed by others sort of vibe. He followed a calf from birth to the feed lot, helped kill a free range chicken, and killed a wild pig in California. Seriously, his descriptions left little to the imagination, although his hunting story was hilarious! Apparently he's a hands on sort of man.

I'm with you...yuck.

He talked alot about what might be called big organic too, and how it's not exactly all it's cracked up to be, meaning the definition per say is rather vague.

Amber said...

this book sounds incredibly interesting.

I'm addicted to fast food right now, and I have a chronic health condition that is greatly affected by nutrition.

Maybe this book could give me another nudge in the right direction, though I don't think I'll ever become a health food "nut."

L said...

I learned much about what we eat. He talks alot about eating 'fads' and how they change from year to year. When you think about it, it is funny how eating only meat is great for your health, then the next year it's not. We are easily swayed by popular opinion, rather than our own bodies and the signals they are sending.

He's written something else called "The Botany of Desire" about plants that I plan on trying next. It's supposed to be an even better book.

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