Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Omnivore's Dilemma

by Michael Pollan
Like Stephanie, I really liked this book, mainly because it addresses a question that has driven me crazy ever since I unwillingly became the master chef in my house: Ah, what to have for dinner? A timeless question asked by millions of people, millions of times throughout their lives. Like I said, this particular question drives me nuts, loony, on a one way street to the crazy farm, 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 that 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, probably 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.


Stephanie said...

You did a great job of summarizing the book! I adore the "Pastoral Grass" section. If people don't have time to read the whole book, they should at least read that. That Polyface Farm is a thing of beauty.

Lula O said...

The descriptions of that farm reminded me so much of my grandfather's farm that I visited as a child. It really took me back reading about it, and that part too, (along with the hilarious hunting story) were my favorite parts of the book.