The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Today, buffeted by one food fad after another, America is suffering from what can only be described as a national eating disorder. Will it be fast food tonight, or something organic? Or perhaps something we grew ourselves? The question of what to have for dinner has confronted us since man first discovered fire. But, as Michael Pollan explains in this revolutionary book, h...

Title:The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1594200823
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:451 pages

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Reviews

  • Patrick Gabridge

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He's been one of my favorite writers, ever since I read A Place of My Own, some years ago. And I stumble across stories by him in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, often quite by accident, and then look at the byline to see who this talented writer is, and there's Pollan again.

    The book has the distinct danger of making you annoying to your spouse/partner/children, because you'll be reading along and feel compelled to share a fact a

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He's been one of my favorite writers, ever since I read A Place of My Own, some years ago. And I stumble across stories by him in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, often quite by accident, and then look at the byline to see who this talented writer is, and there's Pollan again.

    The book has the distinct danger of making you annoying to your spouse/partner/children, because you'll be reading along and feel compelled to share a fact about how industrial corn production has wormed its way into nearly every aspect of the American diet. I know my 12-year-old daughter cringes when we go the store, and I inspect the ingredients, calling out, "Yep, there's corn in this, too."

    Pollan is an immensely fun writer, because he enjoys learning about this stuff, and he's skilled at taking the reader along on the journey, not just through the facts, but through feedlots, and chicken slaughtering, and mushroom hunting. He takes a close look at the industrialization of food production (which depends heavily and crazily on corn), large scale organic farming, and then at a sustainable farming operation, and then around a meal that he assembles using his hunting and gathering skills (relying heavily on the skills of others).

    For our family, this book seems perfectly timed, since we've been making huge dietary changes around here since Halloween, cutting out animal products and most refined and processed foods. We were doing it for health reasons, but this books adds an entirely new level of justification. Not that Pollan is saying you should become a vegan. Not at all. He's saying that we owe it to ourselves to become more conscious about what we actually put in our mouths, and the effects that its creation is having on us, our culture, and our planet.

    My only disappointment is that in the final wrap-up, he focuses on the extreme distance between the industrialized food he and his family consumes and the meal that he makes through hunting and gathering, without mentioning enough of the sustainable farm that he'd visited. (That section made me want to go out and buy some land and start farming. Tomorrow.) We spent so much time with Pollan through this book, I wanted a stronger sense of whether all this had actually managed to change his day-to-day buying and eating habits. But those are really minor points.

    (Also, don't miss a terrific essay Pollan wrote for the NY Times in January, Unhappy Meals, about what we really should eat. Really, it's the answer to what was bugging me about the end of his book. It should be included as an addendum to every copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

  • Tien

    This is a really good book that gets only two stars because it gets annoying. He starts by taking a fascinating look at corn and our very odd decision to be continually dependent on it. And then he walks through Whole Foods and dissects its philosophy and discovers that, surprise, the foods there aren't as organic and local as they advertise. (But he still shops there, of course. It's still Whole Foods.). And then it goes a bit downhill from there. Will a foodie please, please write about how to

    This is a really good book that gets only two stars because it gets annoying. He starts by taking a fascinating look at corn and our very odd decision to be continually dependent on it. And then he walks through Whole Foods and dissects its philosophy and discovers that, surprise, the foods there aren't as organic and local as they advertise. (But he still shops there, of course. It's still Whole Foods.). And then it goes a bit downhill from there. Will a foodie please, please write about how to make local foods accessible to people who are not on a farm and not on the wealthier, gentrified sections of either coast? And not spend all of the last third of the book documenting your efforts on how to literally find a farmer who will get you a small pig to roast, just to prove that it is ultra satisfying to have enough money to eat locally? You want to change how we eat in this country, this is not the way to do it.

  • Sara

    Man, this book is great. The best book I read last year, easily. Mushrooms, chicken slaughter, sustainability, french fries, soul-searching questions, it's all here. Just read it already.

    Okay, if that didn't sell you, here's more info, from the review I wrote for my farm community (Stearns Farm, Framingham, MA):

    The Omnivore’s Dilemma created a lot buzz since its publication in 2006, so you may have read it already. If you haven’t picked it up yet, consider checking it out. At 464 pages, it is

    Man, this book is great. The best book I read last year, easily. Mushrooms, chicken slaughter, sustainability, french fries, soul-searching questions, it's all here. Just read it already.

    Okay, if that didn't sell you, here's more info, from the review I wrote for my farm community (Stearns Farm, Framingham, MA):

    The Omnivore’s Dilemma created a lot buzz since its publication in 2006, so you may have read it already. If you haven’t picked it up yet, consider checking it out. At 464 pages, it is definitely on the long side, but it’s an engaging, easy read, and it puts the question “where do we get our food?” front and center in a fascinating way. Its four different sections break up the book nicely (you could read one section a month, for example, if your reading time is limited), and it is also coming out in convenient paperback form next month.

    In the book, Michael Pollan traces the history and ingredients of four different meals: one from McDonald's, one from Whole Foods market, one from a small farm in Virginia, and one composed of ingredients that he gathered (and killed) on his own. The meal from McDonald’s (about 70% of which is derived from corn) allows him to take a trip down the rabbit-hole into the world of high fructose corn syrup and the massive, genetically-modified mono-farms that produce the majority of corn in this country. The Whole Foods meal is obviously a step up from this, although here Pollan explores the conundrum of eating organically if that means flying peaches in from Chile in December. This section of the book does a fine job explaining that “organic” does not necessarily mean sustainable. Next Pollan spends a week on a farm in Virginia that serves in many ways as an idyllic model for where to get your food. (Hello, Stearns!) Finally, in a section that is as much “adventure series” as it is agricultural critique, Pollan creates a gourmet meal for his friends using only items he gathered himself, including bread made with yeast collected from his backyard and sea salt procured from the Northern California coast on which he lives.

    Hunting and gathering all of your own food these days may seem unfeasible, especially to create the kind of elaborate feast Pollan does. (Although Stearns provides the opportunity to get much closer to that goal). However, even if you are unable to rustle around in the woods for wild boar or visit a fire-blackened forest to pick morel mushrooms, as Pollan does, you will come away from the book re-energized with the commitment to eat locally and sustainably. Pollan may not have deliberately set out to promote CSAs such as Stearns Farm, but that is a happy side benefit of the work. He also writes sensitively and without a sense of moral superiority—it can feel unusual to read a book on this subject that doesn't make you feel bad about yourself. And yet, the information Pollan presents simply and persuasively will compel you to both thought and action, making The Omnivore’s Dilemma an excellent read and great inspiration for the next time you are out in the pick-your-own beds, gathering food for your family’s dinner.

    Honest Tales from Overseas

  • Lisa Vegan

    I was resistant to reading this book because I’m not an omnivore, and also I thought that Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire was brilliant and I suspected I would not feel as fond of this one, which is certainly true. He does write well, but I didn’t find that this book had the eloquence or elegance of the other.

    The sub-title of this book could read: It’s Really Ok To Eat Dead Animals, Really It Is. Which I realize for most people it is. But eating flesh foods and other foods made from animals s

    I was resistant to reading this book because I’m not an omnivore, and also I thought that Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire was brilliant and I suspected I would not feel as fond of this one, which is certainly true. He does write well, but I didn’t find that this book had the eloquence or elegance of the other.

    The sub-title of this book could read: It’s Really Ok To Eat Dead Animals, Really It Is. Which I realize for most people it is. But eating flesh foods and other foods made from animals such as dairy and eggs is simply what the vast majority of this book’s readers and the population as a whole do; it’s not an unique argument.

    But, I loved the fungi chapter and the corn section. The chapter on mushrooms I’m sure I enjoyed so much because a close friend of mine has told stories of her rural Indiana upbringing and of the very small morel patch they have on their property. So it was really fun for me to read about the foraging/hunting of the mushrooms, including local morels. (The author lives about 30 minutes drive from me and I recognized many of the locations in the book.) The corn section (about the deliberate infusion of corn products into just about every processed food) made me determined to cut way down on the processed foods that I often eat: the one real way this book changed me, not an insignificant one.

    A good part of this (apparently beloved) book seemed to me to be the author’s belabored argument that it’s perfectly fine to eat animals. His treatise looked like his attempt to avoid cognitive dissonance (his term although I was already thinking of it like that) so that he could continue to eat in peace as an omnivore, along with about 97% of the U.S. population; being omnivorous is the dominant paradigm. Anyway, his waxing poetic over the glories of killing and eating animals did not sway me. It’s interesting that Pollan continually rebuts his own arguments, but I wasn’t convinced his questioning was as honest as he wanted it to appear, as it seemed to me he already knew the answers he wanted to arrive at about being omnivorous. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he would agree with me about that.

    Some of his facts and figures were off. When he talks about tens of millions of animals killed for food in the U.S. for instance; actually, the latest figures I’ve read are 11 billion every year, not including fish. Even the call to eat locally, which I usually subscribe to, is not to be so simplified. One contradictory example I can think of (this issue is not addressed in the book) is the consuming of products (chocolate, coffee, dried fruit, nuts) from the distant rainforest, which, in my opinion, is much preferable to continuing to cut down rainforest trees, and which the natives will allow if they can’t make their living from the rainforest in other ways.

    I know my philosophy is shared by a relative few, but the fast food meals, the description which was intended to highlight the large amounts of corn products in all the foods, while I found that surprising and unfortunate, it was the cow and chicken parts of the meal that disturbed me the most. And, as far as the “idyllic” Polyface Farm, I truly wonder what they could do 100% plant products grown.

  • Anita

    Michael Pollan is a journalist, and an omnivore, curious about where the food he puts in his mouth comes from. In the book he follows four meals from the very beginning of the food chain to his plate. What he finds is that the food we put in our mouths turns out to be a big decision- a moral, political, and environmental one.

    Part One- CORN

    The discussion begins with CORN. Part one of this book is shocking. I knew corn was the main crop grown in America and that farmers growing it are in big troub

    Michael Pollan is a journalist, and an omnivore, curious about where the food he puts in his mouth comes from. In the book he follows four meals from the very beginning of the food chain to his plate. What he finds is that the food we put in our mouths turns out to be a big decision- a moral, political, and environmental one.

    Part One- CORN

    The discussion begins with CORN. Part one of this book is shocking. I knew corn was the main crop grown in America and that farmers growing it are in big trouble, requiring government subsidies just to stay afloat, but Michael Pollan unravels how it got to that point.

    After leaving the farm, most of the corn finds its way to the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) where it is fed to cows, pigs, chicken, turkey, and now even fish. This is problematic due to the fact that cows aren't built to eat corn. They eat grass. This unnatural diet leads to various health problems for the cow that must be countered with a cocktail of antibiotics and hormones, creating more health problems for us.

    He follows the corn from the field to the supermarket, where it now infiltrates virtually every processed food on the shelf. I had no idea that corn is broken down and recombined into hundreds of different forms, most notably oils, high fructose corn syrup, and xantham gum (never knew what the hell that was). Just take a look at the food label of any processed food and your probably eating some scientific form of that kernel of corn.

    He followed the corn all the way to his meal at McDonald's. Between Pollan, his wife, and his son they packed in 4,510 calories for lunch. The items that contained the highest proportion of corn turned out to be the soda (100%), milk shake (78%), salad dressing (65%), chicken nuggets (56%), cheeseburger (52%), and french fries (23%). And we thought we were eating such a varied diet. As Pollan points out, we are simply industrialized eaters surviving on corn.

    Part 2- GRASS

    Part two focuses on the organic movement. Everyone thinks they're making a wonderful decision to eat organic and in one sense they are, saving the soil from all of the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (although some crazy stuff is still allowed under US organic laws). There are the obvious health benefits of not ingesting those things. The dark side is that the bag of Earthbound Farms baby lettuce mix you just bought traveled 3,000 miles in refrigerated trucks using untold amounts of energy. Organic started out as a local movement, but as demands increased, it was forced to industrialize. Supermarkets don't want to deal with several smaller local organic farmers. They want one large buyer to stock all their produce needs. Big Organic is now a 350 million dollar business.

    Meet Rosie, the organic free range chicken:

    The lesson taken away from Rosie is beware of food labels that state things like "free range" or "cage-free." These are really meaningless statements placed on packaging in an attempt to lessen the guilt of consumers that have informed themselves about the horrors of industrial factory farming. Michael Pollan tracked down Rosie and it turns out that she isn't out wandering in a field of grass. She's in a long indoor structure confined with twenty thousand birds for the first five weeks of her life. When they open the doors at either end after the first five weeks, the birds habits have been set in place, they feel no need to take a chance out in the unknown (which turns out to be a small fenced in patch of grass that could never support all of the birds inside). As Pollan puts it "free range turns out to be not so much a lifestyle for these chickens as a two-week vacation option."

    Pollan then visits Polyface Farm just outside of Charlottesville, VA where Joel Salatin raises cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and even rabbits in harmony with the animals natural instincts. It is the true definition of symbiosis, where each species depends on the others and all depend on the grass. Salatin manages all of this using rotational grazing techniques. The cows come through first, then the chickens. The animals are moved on a daily basis to prevent overgrazing and to allow the proper spreading of the animals' droppings which in turn nourish the soil and grasses. He slaughters the chickens on site, in the open air where any of his costumers can watch and see where their food really comes from. Compare this to the CAFOs where the killing stations are off limits to all observers. What's going on behind those walls? Polyface cows and pigs have to be sent off-site due to USDA regulations. People drive from all over to buy his "clean food" and restaurants in Charlottesville proudly read "Polyface Farm chickens" on their menus. They give a variety of reasons when asked why they come all the way to buy Salatin's food:

    "I just don't trust the meat in the supermarket anymore."

    "You're not going to find fresher chickens anywhere."

    "I drive 150 miles one way in order to get clean meat for my family."

    "It actually tastes like chicken."

    "Oh those beautiful eggs! The difference is night and day- the color, the richness, the fat content."

    It is the alliance between the producer and the consumer. The consumers can look the farmer in the eyes and see that the food is produced "with care and without chemicals." They are also keeping the moeny in the community by supporting local farmers.

    Part 3- The Forest

    His final meal is from ingredients derived from Pollan's owe efforts through hunting and gathering. He realizes this is an unrealistic option in terms of our daily eating, but he wants to undergo this experiment to bring him closer to the food he eats. After hunting wild boar, gathering mushrooms from the forest, collecting cherries from a tree in the neighborhood, he discovers what is for him, "the perfect meal." Why perfect? His meal would not have been possible without the number of people that helped him in his hunting and gathering endeavours. It was an open food chain. He knew where all the ingredients came from and their were no hidden costs. "A meal that is eaten in full consciousness of what it took to make it is worth preparing every now and again, if only as a way to remind us of the true costs of the things we take for granted."

    The bottom line:

    What are we eating?

    Where did it come from?

    How did it make it to our table?

    What is the true cost? (politically, environmentally, ethically, and in terms of the public health)

  • Trevor

    I love food. I really love food. I believe it is one of the most fascinating cultural facts in our lives. I particularly love food that is taken as meals and then the words that gather about meals – not least that most beautiful word ‘sharing’. Because food is never better than when it is shared as ours.

    Recently I was delighted to learn the etymology of the word ‘companion’. That has become my favourite way to describe the people I’m fond of. The word comes from Latin and means ‘with bread’ – t

    I love food. I really love food. I believe it is one of the most fascinating cultural facts in our lives. I particularly love food that is taken as meals and then the words that gather about meals – not least that most beautiful word ‘sharing’. Because food is never better than when it is shared as ours.

    Recently I was delighted to learn the etymology of the word ‘companion’. That has become my favourite way to describe the people I’m fond of. The word comes from Latin and means ‘with bread’ – that is, someone you share bread with. Isn’t that the most beautiful of metaphors?

    Then again, there is food and then there is food – and this is a book about all of the various types of food available to us in this modern world of ours. It is a book that has made me think about what I eat, how I eat it and to question what can only be called the morality of food. And then it also made me think of the psychology of food and the sociology of food in ways I really didn’t expect.

    The book reminded me of many other books. It reminded me of

    , but I think I enjoyed this more (which is really saying something). It reminded me of

    too, and not just because of the hunting stuff towards the end. This guy is so engaging and interesting. And like any good meal there are general themes and flavours but also many tasty asides.

    This book is structured around four meals. Before bringing us to the table for each of these meals he explains how the food got to the table too. The four meals are related to the various ways food is obtained in our modern world. Naturally, the first is industrial farming and the first meal is a McDonald’s hamburger eaten in a car that is being driven at 60 miles an hour.

    Did you know that one in five meals eaten in America are eaten in a car? Isn’t that the saddest statistic you have heard today?

    Recently I’ve been reading books about economics which have turned out to be very much in favour of free market economics. Essentially, they have told the story of how any interference in the operation of free markets is anathema and that the damnation thus brought about by this interference is found in the distortions that invariably cause harm to what they initially sought to protect. The story of corn farming in the USA is a horribly vivid illustration of the effects of the interference in the operation of market forces leading to grotesque distortions which achieve the opposite of this interference’s original intent. Industrial production of corn using fossil fuel fertilisers so that the corn can be either turned into sugar to create rivers of soft drinks or chaff to feed cows in ways nature never intended is more than just morally questionable. The lives of these cows are an unspeakable torture, made no less so by the fact we have short-circuited their lives to a mere 14 months. These animals don’t normally eat corn and the descriptions of their sufferings when they are forced to is both repulsive and infuriating. If you don’t come away from reading this section thinking, “Not in my name” I can only say you are totally lacking in compassion. This is an industry that could hardly make itself less sustainable. It is clear that it needs to be changed, in fact, it needs to be done away with.

    What I liked most about this book was that it didn’t then say: organic is best, buy organic – which is what I thought was coming. In fact, he spends a lot of time talking about how ‘organic’ food isn’t necessarily ‘environmentally friendly’ food. I am one of those dags (oh, Australian slang – it actually means the shit that gets caught in the wool around a sheep’s arse, but has come to mean someone who is a bit ‘naff’, for my English friends, and ‘dorky’ for my American ones) who buys free-range eggs, not because I think they taste any better (I’m sure they don’t) but because I can’t bring myself to eat eggs from chickens that have been treated so appallingly. When I didn’t think about it, everything was fine – but once I did think about it I would rather pay the extra dollar or two so as to be able to enjoy the eggs and not feel like a Nazi prison guard. Some of what he says here about ‘free range’ chickens is also disturbing and the phrase ‘false advertising’ comes to mind.

    However, his description of ‘pastoral food’ is a pure delight and possibly worth reading all on its own if you are in a hurry and don’t want to read the whole book. You know, if you are after the fast food version. Sustainable, thoughtful, inspiring – this really is the heart of the ‘lesson’ of this book and was nearly enough to make me want to go off and start a farm. It also contains what is, for me, the saddest line in the book – about the A grade students in the countryside being stolen from the farms and the D grade students being left behind to be exploited by the clever people from Wall Street and to donate lots of money to televangelists. The sad fact is that I found this sad mostly because it confirms so many of my prejudices about those who live in rural areas – it is not hard to see why Marx proposed the mass industrialisation of agriculture. It was the only way he could imagine of dragging these poor souls out of the horrendous world of ignorance and fear that clungs to them like the mud that sticks to their boots.

    I think many people may feel this book looses its way towards the end – particularly where he goes off to hunt and gather his own food to prepare his final meal. That is what I thought as this part started. At least, until he got into his stride (which, as always, did not take very long). The stuff he has to say about mushrooms, for instance. is utterly fascinating. I had no idea that we know so little about mushrooms. In fact, our ignorance of mushrooms seems quite staggering. Pollan handles those on the ‘lunar’ end of the fungus world (lunar in both the figurative and literal senses of the word) with a deftness and wit that is a pure joy. If you are thinking of picking the eyes out of this book then this section is another must read.

    There are very few pleasures in life that are more human than preparing a meal for the people you love. At least twice in this book he mentions Freud and sex and suggests that Freud could have better based his ideas on desire for food. I suspect that today we are not nearly as stuffed up about sex as we are about food. I learnt an awful lot from this book and had a really nice time with the author as he taught me these things – he is a very clever man and an engaging writer.

    If I had lots more time on my hands I would like to write an Australian version of this book, about where our food comes from and the costs of the inputs into producing it. I would also, if I had lots and lots more time, like to spend some time learning how to find field mushrooms and to learn more about what makes these remarkable creatures tick. Did you know that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants?

    And the dilemma? Well, actually, there are many, many dilemmas – between industrial and sustainable food, between eating new things and eating what you ‘know’, between conscious eating and wilful blindness. This book didn’t make the writer a vegetarian, and it didn’t make me one either – but I did come away from this book wanting to be more aware of what I eat and what the choices I make when deciding what to eat mean.

    If you want to learn about the real eating disorder affecting the world – this really is a book for you.

  • Imogen

    Wow, it seems like a lot of people didn't notice that this kinda sucked! Weird. It read to me like he wrote

    , decided that that framework- a loose structure in which he can just talk alternately interesting and totally self-serving shit for a whole book- and figured he'd give it another go, but this time as his MAGNUM OPUS. And I was pretty into it, for the most part, but in a lot of the parts where he thinks he's being super even-handed, he's actually often being a boring mi

    Wow, it seems like a lot of people didn't notice that this kinda sucked! Weird. It read to me like he wrote

    , decided that that framework- a loose structure in which he can just talk alternately interesting and totally self-serving shit for a whole book- and figured he'd give it another go, but this time as his MAGNUM OPUS. And I was pretty into it, for the most part, but in a lot of the parts where he thinks he's being super even-handed, he's actually often being a boring middle-aged white liberal dude with boring tenured college professor politics. I mean, have you read the part in this book where he decides that animals shouldn't be killed, declares himself a vegetarian, gets stressed out, decides that being a vegetarian is stepping on your friends' toes, then says a bunch of total fucking nothing for twenty minutes (I listened to the audiobook- which, by the way, makes this book sound super preachy even if it isn't, because of the narrator's tone of voice) and decides that vegetarianism isn't a viable way of life? Even though, I don't know, something like a million billion people have been living that way for pretty much forever? Just admit it, Mike: you like eating meat, don't want to make the effort to stop, convinced

    to concede that, sure, if you're going to eat meat, it's better to eat meat that's been ethically raised and slaughtered (aduh), and decided that that settles it: Pete Singer said you don't have to be a vegetarian, so let's just-

    OH MAN after the vegetarian part- we are about three quarters of the way in at this point- Mike decides that he's going to be a hunter, so he writes two hours (it is a trip for me to listen to a book because I do it so rarely, but I am driving across the country and it is a wide country) of the most florid, masturbatory prose I have ever had the privilege of consuming in any medium. ON and ON and ON and ON about the great natural dance, and how probably when you shoot an animal it releases THC (the active ingredient in marijuana; a cannabanoid, which is a science word!) into your brain, 'cause it sure feels like getting stoned. And the beauty of how time slows down when you look through a rifle sight, and how now he is better than people who hunt in their real lives. Thanks for that, Mike. Also thanks for your total lack of solutions for people who can't afford or don't have access to organically grown local fuckin cows that got to play dress-up whenever they wanted up until

    killed them. Actually, thanks for your total lack of solutions to anything (besides 'get your friend to clean the pig you shoot,' SPOILER).

    It's just...

    was pretty fun! You do better when you tell me about Johnny Appleseed,

    , than you do when you try to tell me how to eat. Also I know you did it first but

    does a better job of explaining about how animals are tortured in american corporate agriculture. The student has become the teacher! O-oh!

  • Ryan

    I liked Michael Pollan's

    so much that I searched goodreads reviews for reasons not to like it.

    Let me explain.

    Whenever a really influential book like this comes out, there's a pretty reliable pattern that follows. There's the newspaper "toast of the town" effect, followed by bland and ubiquitous morning TV interviews, and, if you're lucky, an innocuous appearance on Oprah, probably followed by a massive boost in sales. However, there is usually a fairly large group of peopl

    I liked Michael Pollan's

    so much that I searched goodreads reviews for reasons not to like it.

    Let me explain.

    Whenever a really influential book like this comes out, there's a pretty reliable pattern that follows. There's the newspaper "toast of the town" effect, followed by bland and ubiquitous morning TV interviews, and, if you're lucky, an innocuous appearance on Oprah, probably followed by a massive boost in sales. However, there is usually a fairly large group of people absolutely pissed off by the book (or film) because it simplifies or overlooks some crucial matter or matters.

    I'm aware that Pollan made it all the way to Oprah, and I didn't want to be what some call an "Oprah sheep," but I just couldn't hate

    no matter how hard I tried.

    Pollan goes into quite a bit of detail throughout the book, but in a general way, we could say that he examines the American supermarket and notices that it seems to present food in a way that is detached from the production of food, particularly the natural processes on which food production relies. Pollan examines how food is produced and explores three "food chains:" the industrial, the pastoral, and the personal. If food production was a spectrum, then the industrial (monoculture, feedlots, preservatives, processed foods, and international shipping) and the personal (hunter / gatherer) would be at opposing ends. Although Pollan acknowledges that a hunter/ gatherer model is an unrealistic model for feeding a country, he points out that it has the benefit of connecting the eater to what we might call the ecology of food. So try to move closer to the personal, "conscious" method of eating by finding an alternative food chain.

    What does this spectrum mean for us? Organic food does not rely on pesticides or antibiotics, but it is closer to industrial than the personal because it's shipped around the world. Buying food from a local farmer moves us closer to personal since we have some idea of where our food comes from. Meat eaters that have actually seen the animal they're eating die -- or how it dies -- are closer to the personal end of the spectrum. Veggie eaters that eat from the supermarket are closer to the industrial. If nothing else, I can say that I never thought of food in quite this way until I'd read this book.

    In fact, there are a lot of ways that I've never thought about food until I read this book. Pollan clearly has a passion for discussing food and he also has the ability to turn what are often quite obviously contrived experiments into enjoyable reading.

    I said that I was struggling to find someone that hates

    , but I wasn't entirely unsuccessful. My wife is sick of hearing me talk about Michael Pollan. So if you hated the book and would like to convince that it's awful, my wife will surely thank you for your kindness.

    In the meantime, I thought

    was fantastic.

    *

    Although I am not usually convinced by the vegan complaints in response to

    , there is a very good blog that a vegan turned me on to about this book called "Say what Michael Pollan?" It's a worthy response, and a good place to continue reading about food in the postmodern USA.


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