Sunday, June 7, 2009

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan

Summary: Pollan explores the basic question of where our food comes from and what our food's origins mean politically, socially, economically, environmentally, and medically. He explores the industrial food chain, organic and other natural alternatives, and the basic method of hunting-gathering. He comes to the realization that truly knowing about our food is a complicated procedure that can profoundly affect the way we eat.

Musings: This can be a difficult book to read at times, especially if you're not ready for a dramatic food change, which I don't think I am. My husband and I are struggling to make some basic food changes - eat less read meat (not more than once a week), eat fish (at least once a week), and incorporate more vegetables (including trying vegetarian meals). The idea of also trying to think about where my food comes from and how it's made is almost more than I'm willing to take on right now.

Nonetheless, the book is a fascinating look at the way Americans, in particular, have perverted the very nature of obtaining and eating food. The first section is on corn, and I was shocked at how much corn factors into our modern eating. In a bizarre system dictated by government policy and the development of pesticides, American produces far more corn each year than is necessary, and in doing so, is forced into using corn in more and more obscure ways. Through this, we've perverted both humans' and animals' natural way of eating.

My favorite section of the book was when Pollan visited Polyface Farms. This farm relies on the simple principle that nature has already created a system in which animals and plants inherently work in tandem with one another to create a naturally sustainable and thriving cycle. The section will either make you a fervent evolutionist or true believer in God, because there's no other way such an ideal system could come into being. I was awed by the way in which food can be grown without pesticides, without fertilizer, and in humane ways by simply allowing nature to do what it is designed to do. For this to happen, farmers must be willing to play along with nature rather than industrialize it. This is certainly not the case in America today.

Pollan's chapter on hunting and foraging was a little less interesting, especially the rather long section on the complexities of gathering wild mushrooms. It was exciting, however, to see the results of the meal he made (almost) entirely from items he had personally grown, hunted, or gathered.

Pollan can get repetitive at times, but the repetition does ensure that his essential points are clear. My biggest issue, upon finishing, is wondering what I do from here. I agree with Pollan's criticism of the industrial food chain exemplified by the food found in basic supermarkets. But I'm also unwilling to drastically raise my food budget or spend extensive amounts of time seeking alternatives. I feel more aware, but I don't feel like I currently have any where to go.

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