Saturday, May 3, 2008

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

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

Book description: Michael Pollan takes readers through the history of four different meals from farm to table: industrialized fast-food, industrialized organic, local, and one he obtained himself through hunting and gathering.

The more industrialized, urbanized, and commercialized a society is, the greater is the disconnect between the consumer and where exactly his food comes from. In the Western world, the majority of us get our food from a grocery store where the meat is handily dismembered and sealed in slick plastic, milk is delivered in cartons, and we can buy entire meals in a box. We never see the animals that provide us with the milk, eggs, and steak we consume and we never harvest our own fruits and vegetables. It really is no wonder that when I was a child I could not connect the chicken on the TV with the chicken nuggets I loved -- in fact, I still have trouble with that today.

Pollan's journey to discover the origins of what we eat was at times horrifying, at times inspirational, and completely fascinating. As a vegetarian I felt I already had a fairly decent understanding of what exactly enters our food supply chain. I knew about the cruelty of factory farms and the overabundance of corn in our processed foods. As an environmentalist I understand the reasons for wanting to eat lower down on the food chain and more locally. Pollan's book reaffirmed this, as well as adding previously unseen facets to my understanding.

The book lays out the facts and what he saw with, in my opinion, very little pushing toward any one conclusion. (That he saves for his next book, In Defense of Food.) But I came away with a much deeper respect for food in general and the realization that if I wanted to be socially and ecologically conscious with my diet, perhaps even Whole Foods wasn't the way to go because while organic, it is by no means local.

I will definitely be picking up In Defense of Food because I am very interested in Pollan's thoughts on this subject. In the meantime, my community is finally getting a farmers market so I can now buy local without even getting into a car!

(As an aside, I had the great fortune to hear Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, who featured heavily in the eating local section of The Omnivore's Dilemma, comment at a federal advisory committee. He was extremely passionate as well as a very nice man to speak to.)

1 comment:

  1. Another good book about the disconnect between our idea of animals and our idea of meat is Neither Man Nor Beast by Carol J. Adams (it also comes with a feminist perspective and a critique of cartesian dualism, yummy :) )