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

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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 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, how we answer it now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, may determine our survival as a species. Packed with profound surprises, The Omnivore' s Dilemma is changing the way Americans think about the politics, perils, and pleasures of eating.


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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 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, how we answer it now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, may determine our survival as a species. Packed with profound surprises, The Omnivore' s Dilemma is changing the way Americans think about the politics, perils, and pleasures of eating.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    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)

  2. 5 out of 5

    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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    I liked Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma 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 The Omnivore's Dilemma 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 The Omnivore's Dilemma 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 way to feed 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 The Omnivore's Dilemma, 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 me that it's awful, my wife will surely thank you for your kindness. In the meantime, I thought The Omnivore's Dilemma was fantastic.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Imogen

    Wow, it seems like a lot of people didn't notice that this kinda sucked! Weird. It read to me like he wrote The Botany of Desire, 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 The Botany of Desire, 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 Peter Singer 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 Temple Grandin 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... The Botany of Desire was pretty fun! You do better when you tell me about Johnny Appleseed, Michael Pollan, than you do when you try to tell me how to eat. Also I know you did it first but Eating Animals does a better job of explaining about how animals are tortured in american corporate agriculture. The student has become the teacher! O-oh!

  5. 4 out of 5

    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 Fast Food Nation, but I think I enjoyed this more (which is really saying something). It reminded me of Orion’s Legacy 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    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. www.outland-ish.com Honest Tales from Overseas

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    After reading books like these, I'm not sure what to eat anymore. Michael Pollan, a sort of food journalist, doesn't always give you the kind of clear-cut answers you'd like if you're reading books like this in order to learn what's healthy for your body and what's not. However, here are two important things I did learn: #1 - Eating only one thing is not good for you in the long run. #2 - Corn is in nearly everything we eat these days. America grows corn. The American government pays for its farmer After reading books like these, I'm not sure what to eat anymore. Michael Pollan, a sort of food journalist, doesn't always give you the kind of clear-cut answers you'd like if you're reading books like this in order to learn what's healthy for your body and what's not. However, here are two important things I did learn: #1 - Eating only one thing is not good for you in the long run. #2 - Corn is in nearly everything we eat these days. America grows corn. The American government pays for its farmers to grow corn. Corn syrup goes into an alarmingly high percentage of our daily foods. Our farmed-fish and cows subsist on corn. Hell, some of our cars run on corn! CORN! Another issue is the nitrates used to grow all this corn. Because it's less physically demanding, farmers spread chemical nitrates over their fields. To ensure a good crop, they overcompensate. All this excess washes into our water system, contaminating our drinking water and destroying fish habitats. The Gulf of Mexico spreading outward from the Mississippi Delta is fucked. The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of those books I've been hearing about for years. In the past, I've read other Pollan books and they were good, but for some reason I held off on this one. Maybe it was like that character in Lost holding on to a copy of Our Mutual Friend, the only Dickens book he hasn't read. I knew this book would be special. I wanted to wait and savor it. I also knew it would be slightly depressing. I wanted to be ready for it. But it's not all doom and gloom. Pollan is hopeful and allows for the light at the end of the tunnel. He's also willing to try new things like hunting and vegetarianism. He gets his hands dirty and that's what I like to see in my journalists. Fantastic book! Recommended to all!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    He makes some good points but in the end, it smacks of well-off white man over simplifying an incredibly complex issue. What the book has going for it is that it's a best seller, especially to the faux-liberal, over educated set and it's at least making them THINK about where their food is coming from. What I don't like though, is that it lets them off the hook as far as accountability if they just go about buying the RIGHT kind of meat. Well, all of that free range "humane" meat goes to the sam He makes some good points but in the end, it smacks of well-off white man over simplifying an incredibly complex issue. What the book has going for it is that it's a best seller, especially to the faux-liberal, over educated set and it's at least making them THINK about where their food is coming from. What I don't like though, is that it lets them off the hook as far as accountability if they just go about buying the RIGHT kind of meat. Well, all of that free range "humane" meat goes to the same creepy slaughterhouses that the factory farmed animals go to so really, from an ethical stand point, it's no better. Oh and the USDA Guidelines on what is considered free range are ridiculous, 5 minutes ACCESS to the outdoors a day earns you free range classification. Also, the idea of getting all of your meat from nearby sustainable family farms who do their own slaughter and processing is really great in theory but then won't it become a class issue when only rich people can afford it? Oh but I guess those are the same people reading this book so it's cool. Oh and lots of his numbers were way off...he said we kill millions of animals a year for food in this country, more like BILLIONS. I talked to a guy yesterday who worked in a chicken slaughtering line in a prison way back when and said that he was responsible for personally killing 8,000 birds a day. slicing their necks open. ugh. Oh another positive: I did learn a lot about corn from the book and have pretty much backed away from anything made with it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    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.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    Update 5/23/2010 Terrific piece by Michael Pollan in the NYRB June 10, 2010, "The Food Movement, Rising" in which he reviews five books: Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities, All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America?, The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society, Eating Animals I am beginning to wallow and bask in the mire of food politics, subject of Pollan's piece. It's interesting to read the comments secti Update 5/23/2010 Terrific piece by Michael Pollan in the NYRB June 10, 2010, "The Food Movement, Rising" in which he reviews five books: Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities, All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America?, The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society, Eating Animals I am beginning to wallow and bask in the mire of food politics, subject of Pollan's piece. It's interesting to read the comments section after any article dealing with meat or vegetarianism. One can almost see the participants spitting on each other. It's like watching Mormon fundamentalists defend polygamy to the College of Cardinals. To quote Troy Duster (from Pollan's piece) "No movement is as coherent and integrated as it seems from afar, and no movement is as incoherent and fractured as it seems from up close." And as we learned from OD, food is all politics from the huge changes initiated by the Nixon administration to bring down the price of food to Michelle Obama's efforts to change the way kids eat. As long as there is government to promote the interests of one group or another, there will be these kinds of battles, but I doubt any of us would wish the total absence of regulation desired by Joel Salatin - except maybe Rand Paul. It's an interesting communitarian movement, perhaps a throwback to the sixties, but one that appeals to both right and left: the desire to localize and remove oneself from the larger society. That is largely what I meant when I referred elsewhere to Pollan's book as a Libertarian Manifesto. In his 2006 book Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, ... America, Rod Dreher identifies a strain of libertarian conservatism, often evangelical, that regards fast food as anathema to family values, and has seized on local food as a kind of culinary counterpart to home schooling. Major editing 5/23/2010 about half the content identical to my review of Foer's Eating Animals. minor editing 4/16/10 Let's see, things we can't or shouldn't eat: butter, steak, meat, spinach because of the salmonella (or maybe it's only the organic spinach that gets contaminated), apples because of the alar, salt, sugar, fat, any food not bought at a farmer's market, any food bought at a non-union grocery, any food bought at a chain, any food that's not organic, any food that's labeled organic by the USDA because their standards aren't strict enough, kosher food, non-kosher, non-grass fed beef (and now we've learned that grass-fed beef is salmonella contaminated, too - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12...,) pasteurized milk, raw milk, etc. etc), This issue seems to engender as much animosity as whether communion should be allowed to non-Catholics. Factions abound, each with a slightly different take on the issue: those who believe eating meat is immoral; those who believe eating meat from factory farms is immoral; those who believe eating meat is immoral because it's environmentally unsound; those who believe eating meat is bad for your health; those who believe eating meat is fine; those who believe eating some kinds of meat is fine; those who believe eating meat is immoral because animals are sentient beings; and those who think the issue is cultural rather than moral or environmental. How to reconcile these views and where does each of the authors take a stance. All of these views represent a moral position, i.e. a personal one in which the believer needs to persuade others of the necessity of adopting his view to the exclusion of the others and convince that not to do so will result in calamity. Up front we have to recognize that only people who have tons of food available, i.e., the rich, would even consider any of the positions. Let me state my biases up front. I am very skeptical of any argument that proposes calamity will result if a particular position is not adopted. I am skeptical of moral arguments (not ethical ones). I believe that the most difficult decisions require choosing between grays, not black and white; that sentience as we understand it requires some form of self-awareness and we have little way to judge that in beings that we don't understand (can't communicate with) and that sentience varies tremendously across species, indeed across individuals within that species; and that pain as we understand it may be very different across animals and plants with structures. (David Foster Wallace in "Consider the Lobster" discusses scientific evidence that lobsters, because of their structure, may in fact feel a state of euphoria when being boiled rather than pain as we understand it.) I worked on two dairy farms for several years, milking about 120 cows, both in stanchions and and parlors, dehorning calves, and shoveling shit. Contrary to Foer's claims, cows are not treated regularly with antibiotics. A test tube of milk coming out of the farmer's tank is pulled before loading on the truck, and this is tested at the plant before being mixed with the rest, and if any suspicion of antibiotic is found, the entire load is dumped and the farmer loses the value of the entire load. We were meticulous about dumping milk from any treated cow (usually for mastitis) for the required period before selling it. Those who think drinking raw milk is the answer are asking for trouble. We did, but that was probably stupid. Besides that I saw what was in the strainer sometimes. None of that milk is tested and come on folks, there's a good reason why we started pasteurizing milk. It saved a lot of lives. I don't have any experience with feedlots, but I do know that stress on animals is to be avoided at all costs as it slows the rate of growth, cuts profits, and leads to disease. It's impossible to discuss these books in a vacuum, and I need to start out by making clear several assumptions: 1. Humans are omnivores biologically and, in fact, only very recently (say about 10,000 years ago) began to farm grains for food. Before that we were hunter/gatherers relying primarily on meat and berries. 2. Everything is interconnected. Just not eating meat will not even begin to address the issues of environmental degradation. Computers, roads, cars, pets, travel, ipods, plastics, toilet paper, etc., all have their downsides. If Foer and Pollan and Berry et all choose to emphasis one aspect of life and deliver broadsides against that particular activity that's fine as long as we understand that limiting that activity will have a minuscule effect on the environment. More effect would be had if all the hand-wringers stopped flying about the country wasting fuel and polluting the environment, just staying put. Problem is that apocalyptic thinking and lecturing is very profitable. 3. Environmental activism is very much a white, rich, western game. People who have no money and who live a hand-to-mouth existence can't afford to choose. The best way to promote conscious environmental action is by raising living standards around the world. It also reduces the rate of population growth. 4. My very strong bias is that the only practical solution to the myriad number of problems is technological. Some examples: algae oil is already being used successfully mixed with Jet-A by Continental Airlines and the results are a reduction in carbon-footprint of 60-80% and fuel efficiency of 1-2%; production of methane gas as an energy source (very clean burning) from large factory-farms, something not possible if the animals are parsed out in smaller farms where runoff occurs in large quantities, etc., etc. 5. We quite naturally tend to read and find books and data that support a preconceived opinion and avoid those that present an opposing view. 6. My other bias is that I'm very sympathetic to vegetarianism, not veganism, for I love my bread and butter and cheese way too much. I milked cows for several years, churned my own butter and would gladly have turned several fresh heifers into instant hamburger had I been able to after wiping their manure off my face. (If you've ever milked cows you know exactly what I'm talking about.) NB: I have a problem with beliefs that are so strongly held that believers think they have to claim apocalypse will result if their beliefs aren't adopted by everyone. The Inuit diet consisted of meat alone and meat taken from what is clearly a sentient animal. To suggest they adopt a western, citified, cereal diet is wrong and ridiculous. This is why one of my heroes is Norman Borlaug who virtually single-handedly began the green revolution that increased wheat yields spectacularly (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/pe...). He DID something, unlike the Paul Ehrlichs who just ran around making a fortune proclaiming the sky is falling. ALL of Ehrlich's predictions have been wrong because of people like Borlaug. I find the definition of what constitutes sentience to be worse than muddled and mixing up moral issues with that and environmental concerns makes the issues even murkier. There are clearly differences in "sentienceness" from one species to another (no one would argue that a snail has the same level of consciousness as a dog) and whether that should play any part in deciding what to eat or not makes an interesting debate. Personally, I wish the discussion would leave the realm of "morality" with its concomitant religious overtones and focus on the more rational (IMHO) environmental concerns. I very much enjoyed Pollan, much to my surprise. (I actually listened to this and while Scott Brick is one of my favorite readers, he was all wrong for this book. Way too pedantic sounding.) A very interesting book with tons of detail (which I like) displaying the symbiotic relationship we have with corn and fossil fuels, a very destructive relationship, but one that nevertheless has allowed us to feed many, many more people than would have been possible otherwise. Ultimately, something will have to change, we cannot continue to use 1.5 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food. Pollan emphasizes the mono-culture of corn but the same problems exist with the banana and other crops. In order to ship food to where it's needed requires products that mature at the same time, don't bruise easily, etc. He also shows that virtually all the food we eat has been genetically modified, if not at the gene level, certainly through seed selection, chosen for productivity , disease resistance, and a variety of other qualities. I learned that in order to increase yields the nitrogen that was added was in the form of ammonium nitrate which existed as a surplus after world war two, no longer needed for explosives. That nitrogen leaches off the ground, into wells, (blue baby syndrome, too much nitrogen cause respiratory issues,) and into the water supply in other ways. (As an aside, no one around here uses much of that, preferring anhydrous ammonia injection directly into the soil with presumably much less runoff.) I do have some issues with his very limited perspective on industrial farming, which he never defines, by the way. My neighbors, family farms all, farm thousands of acres. At what point does the size become optimum? Families run feedlots, too. My veterinarian has 40 steers in a feedlot. Is that a factory farm? They have the same conditions, the same feed, etc., as the larger feedlot a few miles away. It's almost as if Pollan had decided that farming on a grand scale was apocalyptic and then pulled together data to support his view. His data with regard to corn prices are woefully out of date. Just check commodity prices over the last five years. His choice of George Naylor must have required considerable searching in order to find someone who thought just the way he did. The history of price supports and the switch under the Nixon administration from a "loan" program to direct payments was something I had completely forgotten and had no idea how much influence it would have on corn production. On the other hand, Butz's intent was to increase production to take the heat off Nixon following the huge increase in food prices as the price for corn had increased so dramatically. All that being said, there's a lot of useful information, particularly with regard to government policy, and lots of fuel to support the libertarian side of the equation. There is no question that our over reliance on fossil fuels will get us into serious trouble very soon. A final comment. All of the recent food books could only have been written by a society that doesn't have to worry about where its next meal is coming from. The problem we have is scale. Wrigley just changed their gum wrappers from the little foil wrap to paper and thereby saved the equivalent of 60 million cans of aluminum. There's the problem in a nutshell Fun trivia: the corn plant has 32,000 genes, more than humans. Astonishing. (Knowledge Magazine Mr/Apr 2010)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    The Omnivore's Dilemma is definitely worth your thyme! Have you ever thought about where that burger came from? How about the diet of your store-bought salmon? Are you just tired about hearing about the exhaustive origins of your food at every fancy restaurant? Do you wish your hipster friends would stop trying to get you to forage for mushrooms? Then I've got the book for you! I'd been taking down the audiobook of Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals intermittently for m The Omnivore's Dilemma is definitely worth your thyme! Have you ever thought about where that burger came from? How about the diet of your store-bought salmon? Are you just tired about hearing about the exhaustive origins of your food at every fancy restaurant? Do you wish your hipster friends would stop trying to get you to forage for mushrooms? Then I've got the book for you! I'd been taking down the audiobook of Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals intermittently for months. It first started as a companion on a road trip, but gave way to the book I occasionally put on as I was doing some housework. At first, I found it a bit dull and slow-moving, due in no small part to Scott Brick's slow, laborious narration of the book. But as soon as I ticked up the narration speed to 1.5x, I couldn't stop finding excuses to put on my headphones and listen to this superb treatise on food. This book is about humankind's relationship to food, the environment, and our own personal health. Earlier this year, I reviewed The Dorito Effect by Mark Shatzker, and while both books deal with food, Pollan's book is more concerned with ecology than taste and flavour. Though, it should be noted, that there are plenty of delicious sounding food descriptions littering the 16-hour listening experience. Four Meals The premise of Pollan's book is based around four meals: fast-food, industrial farm, self-sustaining organic farm, and one meal hunted, foraged, and prepared by Pollan himself. Using this intuitive structure, Pollan is able to progress from least enjoyable and viable to the most rewarding and delicious of his meals. It also works because Pollan digs deep into the thoughts, historical events, and effects on the larger world that have shaped our industrial food chain. Though I like to think I know a lot about food and how the human body converts that food into energy, this book made me realize how little I know about the tumultuous transition between captured solar energy and the slab of meat on my plate. Even if, when Pollan really digs into the ubiquity of corn in North American foods, I couldn't help but thinking of this clip. I won't attempt to condense Pollan's ideas into this simple review, but I will say that it helped me to think more fully about the meal from its origins to my plate. I'll admit that I've often been semi-interested to hear the stories and origins of my food in restaurants, but I now have a deep respect for what those restaurants are trying to accomplish. It makes more sense after listening to this book that you'd want to eat foods that are in season. Knowing where one's food comes from is an attempt to connect to that lost part of our evolutionary history, when eating meant that one had to discover, collect, and process a meal by their own hands. I don't mind saying that this book makes me want to convert my backyard into farmland and that I began actively looking for opportunities to fish, hunt, and forage locally. Pollan makes convincing arguments, but is also an infinitely likeable guy. Pollan rarely preaches and he admits to enjoying the convenience that industrial foods provide. That Pollan is more of an everyman makes the listening experience more enjoyable, relatable, and helped me feel as if I could make some changes to my diet that would be more sustainable. Books about food aren't for everyone, but this one makes a case for being one everyone should read or, as in my case, listen to. Indeed, though I love to read fiction, nonfiction seems to work best for me in audio format. Though the book is a tad older (originally published in 2006), it is highly relevant today when many of us have to decide between the slightly pricier local vegetables and the more affordable industrial greens. For the duration of my reading it made me a more conscious eater, and I have to say that I learned a lot more than expected! Be sure to check this one out!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rashaan

    A wise man recently told me, "Capitalism is here to stay." With that in mind, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is a feel good guide to consumerism at its most sustainable, organic, locally grown, and ultimately high-end. Yes, this is an eye-opening read that will, at first, make you want to stop eating all together then compel you to grab a sturdy pair of boots you can kick around in, throw on some clothes that will certainly get dirty, if not bloody, and step into the splendors of the na A wise man recently told me, "Capitalism is here to stay." With that in mind, Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is a feel good guide to consumerism at its most sustainable, organic, locally grown, and ultimately high-end. Yes, this is an eye-opening read that will, at first, make you want to stop eating all together then compel you to grab a sturdy pair of boots you can kick around in, throw on some clothes that will certainly get dirty, if not bloody, and step into the splendors of the natural world. Pollan leads us on an epicurean journey that most of us could take only through the guiles of his literary skills and a comfortable armchair. We dredge through the horrors of industrial farming, contemplate over the simplicity of small, sustainable growers, and track through the forests of Northern California hunting wild boar and foraging for chanterelles. What we discover on his trek for the "Perfect Meal" is no real surprise to anyone who pays attention to the news. Americans are squeezed tightly between the behemoth corporate Charybdis that's killing us with corn-fed livestock and wreaking havoc across the country, spilling into our oceans. Then there's Scylla to our left, the over-priced, just beyond our reach, pure and golden harvest of sustainable, organic, locally grown food. However, unless you live in Northern California--and Pollan does!-- or one of the few corners of the U.S. where you can easily access this food on a weekly basis without the guilt of carbon footprints, or have the property to grow for yourself--ahem! subprime mortgage crisis, you'll just have to imagine the good life and take Pollan's word for it. Pollan seems to willfully neglect the chasm between the haves (those who can waltz into Chez Panisse, meet with Alice Waters, and enjoy fresh goat cheese and endive) and the vast amount of have-nots, who demand and therefore fuel our fast food nation. In one chapter Pollan indulges in the quintessential American family experience of ordering 2 Big Macs, super-sized fries, and a Happy Meal. He queasily downs the over-processed, cholesterol clogging feed with his family in the comfort and convenience of his convertible car. What he fails to recognize is that people do this not necessarily because its fun, but if we're treated as "Human Resources" we will act like Human Resources. Just pull onto your nearby freeway, and you'll see for yourself. It's not hard to spot any nameless driver passing by, cheeseburger or breakfast burrito in one hand, steering wheel in the other. For most people, eating is not a ritual to be shared with the family and support local businesses. Eating is simply re-fueling; something workers or resources do on their way to or from work. Expressways as feedlots is by no means acceptable, but it is the state of our society, or at least a stratum and economic phenomenon that Pollan has decidedly left out. Pollan means well and we certainly can't go on eating the same food in the same way. Lest we keep pumping money into a health and food system, which in turn pumps our television with commercials that in one minute entice us with grease-laden, over-processed meat to clog our hearts and arteries. Then the next minute another commercial urges us to get hooked on Lipitor or Lopressor, which we probably wouldn't need if we hadn't eaten those cheeseburgers in the first place. We also can't ignore that the cost of our appetites is speedily deteriorating the Elysian fields that made us a First World Super power. Capitalism is here to stay, and consumers need to be informed--should be informed, about what we put in our bodies and how we feed our children. We need to start paying the real cost of food up front instead of getting hit with the hidden costs through doctor's bills and E Coli recalls. Still, Pollan's feast is difficult to swallow, much less nearly impossible to sit down to and really enjoy because he has an expense account and two years to scour the East and West Coasts for his meal. The Omnivore's Dilemma is perilous indeed. But I can't help wonder who exactly is this omnivore that Pollan's referring to? Poring over his book, I learn his omnivore has time to hunt for morels, knows how to make a souffle, and has two weeks to spare to arrange a dinner party for twelve guests among the bountiful gardens of Berkeley, California. Pollan's omnivore's dilemma comes down to what to eat and how to eat it when you have the time and means to contemplate. That's all very well and good, but the rest of us "omnivores" are still over-worked, under-nourished, and starving.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elise (TheBookishActress)

    remember when this book, written by a proud meat-eater, accidentally made me a vegetarian? Okay, but seriously, I'd recommend giving this a read. Give the teen version a read if you really can't take a 450-page nonfiction book. Either way, I think everyone needs to know exactly how the food industry works. And no, it's not advocating for you to become a vegetarian - it's simply showing truths. The lack of attempt to guilt readership is honestly what stands out about this book. By showing reality remember when this book, written by a proud meat-eater, accidentally made me a vegetarian? Okay, but seriously, I'd recommend giving this a read. Give the teen version a read if you really can't take a 450-page nonfiction book. Either way, I think everyone needs to know exactly how the food industry works. And no, it's not advocating for you to become a vegetarian - it's simply showing truths. The lack of attempt to guilt readership is honestly what stands out about this book. By showing reality without pushing an opinion on what the proper solution is, Pollan manages to be especially convincing. I truly think this book is worth the read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Update: The Wilson Quarterly provides a very nice slideshow of Polyface Farm, in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, which plays a key role in Pollan's examination of sustainable agriculture.                         •                 •                 •                 •                 • I thought when I started this book that a review would be superfluous—after all, it was published many years ago and has been reviewed thousands of times. But the material is provocative, and some reviews on this and s Update: The Wilson Quarterly provides a very nice slideshow of Polyface Farm, in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, which plays a key role in Pollan's examination of sustainable agriculture.                         •                 •                 •                 •                 • I thought when I started this book that a review would be superfluous—after all, it was published many years ago and has been reviewed thousands of times. But the material is provocative, and some reviews on this and similar books induce yet more thinking. There’s certainly a lot to talk about when it comes to food. I suppose that has always been the case, but two relatively new topics have shoved their way onto the bestsellers list. Well, perhaps “two” is too limited, but it's a good if arbitrary start. First, the health angle. There are quite a few books exploring how and why today’s food is so bad for us. Here the general idea is to examine how what-we-eat isn’t quite what-we-should-be-eating. This discussion goes in two directions: backwards, into our evolutionary development, to ask why is it we so enjoy food that isn’t good for us; and currently, looking at our consumer “preferences”: why is it our national (and, increasingly, global) diet is even less healthy than even our natural inclinations have historically made it? The other hot topic examines the many ways in which feeding the human race has become very bad for the planet and its inhabitants, especially those we eat. Again, this can be split many ways: how simply feeding so many billions of humans taxes the planet’s resources and health; how the diets of the developed world exaggerate that effect; and how the industrial food production system further exacerbates the problem. Threaded through both of these is the ethical problem: what should an enlightened human being be eating, anyway? And if that diet includes meat, how should we treat our meat? Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma certainly fits within the scope of all of the above, but isn’t really central to any of them. In an important sense, Pollan has written a very different book, one that very gently deals with a deeper problem. One of his few failings is that he doesn’t make this distinction evident enough: most readers will notice the similarities to the avalanche of other food-reform books, and not the differences. After all, Pollan does investigate the factory farm system, and its horrors are quite evident. And he shows that even “organic” farming can be captured and compromised by the industrial paradigm. But the title of Pollan’s book hints at the difference: he isn’t delivering a polemic or jeremiad; he is troubled at how the original dilemma faced by everyone has changed and sharpened in our modern world. Carnivores and herbivores don’t have any options regarding what they eat. Our dilemma, in a nutshell, is that unlike many other creatures, we are forced to choose what to eat and what not to eat. We have the advantage over other omnivores that our decision can be informed by culture and education; but we also have the burden that our decision has ethical and cultural consequences. Pollan divides his book into three meals. The first is how the industrial “food system” gathers raw materials and manipulates them into “products”, such as a typical McDonald’s Value Meal, or a Weight Watcher’s frozen dinner. Corn, it turns out, plays an astonishingly larger role in this process than one might expect; so much that even a meal that notionally contains no corn might still actually draw the vast majority of its original caloric energy from that heavily domesticated tropical grass. He illuminates the effects of such a factory system on the welfare of cattle, for example, or political and economic distortions induced, or the amount of petroleum required, but he doesn’t come across as preaching — just informing. (My favorite tidbit from this section was a reminder of the astonishing way corn becomes the source of so many of those other ingredients in processed food: “Natural raspberry flavor” doesn’t mean the flavor came from a raspberry; it may well have been derived from corn, just not from something synthetic. Only a tiny number of additives are actually derived from petroleum—so far...) The second meal is derived from a small farm that depends, as far as can be managed, solely on solar energy via plants. Specifically, grass plays the central and foundational role in an integrated and carefully orchestrated ecosystem of farm animals. Every “output” is transformed into an “input” elsewhere; cow manure left in a field, for instance, becomes the growth medium for insect larvae (yeah, fly maggots) that are eaten by chickens, whose droppings then become fertilizer for yet more grass. The bucolic atmosphere and almost complete lack of industrial inputs makes us consider this form of pastoral farming pre-modern, but the ecological management is so information-intensive that it is also post-industrial. This is clearly an approach that is better for people, for animals, and for the environment... but had its own share of problems. This kind of farm is called a “Management-Intensive Grazing” operation, and the orchestration is almost overwhelming, and requires such a high degree of daily commitment that it is difficult to imagine this becoming more than a niche player in the globe’s food production. Furthermore, getting the food to consumers is another task that has found no easy solutions. Direct farm-to-consumer connections can be found in some areas, but not many. Farmers markets, CSA and the like are exciting developments, but don’t easily scale up to support large and widely distributed populations. The final meal described is definitely pre-modern; in fact it is an attempt to recapture a pre-industrial mode of eating. Pollan did his best to personal gather all of the ingredients for a meal, including gathering wild mushrooms, harvesting produce and fruit, and hunting wild boar. That last effort brought the omnivore’s dilemma back to the fore again, as he struggled to consciously reconcile his meat eating with his liberal culture and modern critiques of the ethical treatment of animals. He reluctantly abstained from eating meat while he dealt with this, even going so far as to discuss the issue via email with Peter Singer, the contemporary philosopher most associated with animal rights and veganism. In the end, he concluded “What’s wrong with eating animals is the practice, not the principle.” In examining the vegan choice, he points out that even there the practice can get in the way of the principle. Harvesting grain — even organic wheat — is typically done with a combine: a large machine that will frequently shred field mice and other small critters that get in the way. Modern agriculture is problematic for everyone, not just liberal omnivores. Pollan never solves the dilemma for us. None of these three approaches will solve the problems we face in our attempt to both feed billions of people and keep the planet and our consciences happy. What differentiates The Omnivore’s Dilemma is how Pollan personalizes the problem. We can eat better—we almost can not eat worse—and we must eat better. But our personal choices create our food culture, and none of these choices are simple. Unfortunately, almost all of us prefer to avert our gaze and let “the market” decide for us.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) I made the mistake of reading this a decade after its publication, which means I already knew most of its facts about industrialized farming and the insidiousness of processed foods, especially high-fructose corn syrup. I found Part I to be overly detailed and one-note, constantly harping on about corn. The book gets better as it goes on, though, with Pollan doing field research at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia to compare large-scale organic agriculture with more sustainable gra (3.5) I made the mistake of reading this a decade after its publication, which means I already knew most of its facts about industrialized farming and the insidiousness of processed foods, especially high-fructose corn syrup. I found Part I to be overly detailed and one-note, constantly harping on about corn. The book gets better as it goes on, though, with Pollan doing field research at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia to compare large-scale organic agriculture with more sustainable grassroots operations. As Salatin puts it, “You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.” A McDonald’s meal may be cheaper than an organic/local one, but that price tag doesn’t take into account the environmental toll of cheap beef and corn. Pollan’s assessment of the ethics of eating meat is not quite as thorough as Jonathan Safran Foer’s (in Eating Animals), but he does a good job of showing all sides of the issue, and is honest about his own difficulty in killing for food – a chicken at Polyface, and a wild pig he shot in the forests of California to produce a mostly foraged local feast. My favorite section of the book was about foraging for this final, “perfect” meal. He captures how I’ve always felt about foraging: “this felt more like something for nothing, a wondrous and unaccountable gift.” This would make an excellent, comprehensive introduction to where food comes from for people who have never given it much thought. But then again, the people who need it most would probably never pick up a dense 400+-page book by a liberal journalist.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gendou

    Michael Pollan is anti-science. He blames scientists for the misappropriation of scientific language in advertising. He touts folk wisdom. I saw him at a book reading and asked him why he is critical of science. He said the science is too easy to abuse, so it should just be ignored. This is horrible advice. Ignorance doesn't solve anything. It leaves people vulnerable to those who would mislead and deceive them.

  17. 4 out of 5

    dara

    I had an idea of where this book was headed before I even read it--eat organic, local produce, and choose grass-fed meat over factory farm meat. I knew from a quote in Eating Animals that Pollan eventually dismisses vegetarianism as a decision not grounded in reality. What I didn't expect was for him to reach that conclusion so quickly and without so much as visiting a slaughterhouse. Instead he visits Polyface farms, slaughters a few chickens in a manner far more humane than the fate met by the I had an idea of where this book was headed before I even read it--eat organic, local produce, and choose grass-fed meat over factory farm meat. I knew from a quote in Eating Animals that Pollan eventually dismisses vegetarianism as a decision not grounded in reality. What I didn't expect was for him to reach that conclusion so quickly and without so much as visiting a slaughterhouse. Instead he visits Polyface farms, slaughters a few chickens in a manner far more humane than the fate met by the chickens sold in the supermarkets. He then hunts a wild pig, and feels good about eating meat again. His hunting expedition takes up far bigger chunk of the book than the measly slim chapter on the ethics of eating animals. The problem I have with this is that his two experiences do not represent meat consumption as the majority of Americans know it today: it does not come from farms as sustainable as Polyface farms--and even such a farm currently operates below its own ideals since it is not allowed to slaughter any of its own animals except chickens--nor is it a product of "respectful" hunting.* With the latter, Pollan admits that it is not feasible to hunt for our food anyway because there are too many of "us" and too few of "them"--wild animals. This book should be titled Michael Pollan's Dilemma since it does little to address "The Omnivore's Dilemma" once he completely forgoes examining the main sources of American meat--factory farming--and instead focuses on two exceptions to the rule. Before starting this book, I knew I wasn't going to agree with Pollan's conclusion, but I did at least expect that its role of raising food awareness would still allow me to recommend it to others. It had a promising start. The chapters on corn and organics are interesting. I was already aware of the abundance of food in the American diet, but the information of how corn adapted was rather new to me. The chapters on organic and local produce leave me with more thinking and researching to do before I can decide how to best adapt my shopping habits. However, I fear that the idealization of hunting and "happy meat" overshadows any other message in the book. People look for justification to continue to eat meat--and Pollan provides them with this by accepting these exceptions, and not even seriously entertaining the alternative of abstaining from animal products altogether. If this book does empower people to make more informed decisions, then I'm glad for it, but personally, I had a more positive opinion of Pollan from his contribution to Food, Inc. and various interviews than I did after reading this book. * After his hunting expeditions, Pollan joins the rank of writers who try to make hiding in a bush and pulling a trigger seem poetic. Why anyone would feel pride over shooting a pig is beyond my understanding. It's not as if he's John Locke stranded on an island with only his knives and his instincts. He is more at risk gathering mushrooms. Pollan's account tries to convince the reader of a reverence the hunter feels for his prey, but growing up in a rural area, surrounded by hunters (and even being kin to them), I've yet to be convinced that American hunters feel much more than the thrill of killing and of course, having bragging rights and (of course) their stories to tell.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stacie

    From the very beginning, Omnivore’s Dilemma, it had me thinking a lot about my childhood. I grew up on my grandparents’ farm in MN, where we had draft horses, cows, chickens, a garden filled with vegetables, apple trees and rows upon rows of corn. I learned how to take an ear off the stalk at a very young age – probably around the same time that I learned how to bale hay – because across the farm from the rows of corn, we also had a field of alfalfa and wheat. While my grandpa grew corn to sell From the very beginning, Omnivore’s Dilemma, it had me thinking a lot about my childhood. I grew up on my grandparents’ farm in MN, where we had draft horses, cows, chickens, a garden filled with vegetables, apple trees and rows upon rows of corn. I learned how to take an ear off the stalk at a very young age – probably around the same time that I learned how to bale hay – because across the farm from the rows of corn, we also had a field of alfalfa and wheat. While my grandpa grew corn to sell to buyers like Blaney and Stauffer, we didn’t feed the corn to our animals – they received baled hay of alfalfa and wheat, or at the grass in the pasture they roamed every day. I always figured it was because my grandpa didn’t want our animals eating his potential profits, but after reading OD, I wonder. Unfortunately my grandparents are no longer around to ask. What I sometimes think is ironic, is that while there are over 60 of us, not one of us stayed on the farm, even though the farm never really left us. In my family, we are gardeners – whether we are tending a flower garden or a vegetable garden – we are growing some of the food that will be presented at our tables. Hunting was always a big thing in my family as well. My grandfather taught his children and grandchildren at an early age how to shoot a gun, but never expected anyone (I am not a hunter, but know how to shoot a gun) to hunt if they didn’t want to. What he did teach us was that you ate what you killed. Hunting and fishing (another thing we did a lot of) was not a sport, it was a way of life – it was a way to feed our family. While I liked this book for the memories of childhood lessons it conjured for me, it also helped to remind me of my ideals around food. Ideals that have become lax of late. One example: I made all of my daughter’s food when she was a baby. She did not partake in any pre-made food, and was a vegetarian until she was about two years old. I am not sure when my desire to feed her naturally ended, but now she eats processed food when I feel busy – processed food that I sometimes cannot pronounce the ingredients much less figure out where it came from. With many things (I am looking at your Twinkies) we have a rule that if you can’t pronounce it you don’t eat it, but this goes out the window when I am too busy to make a homemade meal. Pollan, without ever preaching, without ever scolding, reminds the reader that we owe it to ourselves and to our families to know where are food is coming from. I felt this was a very well written book – both in its content and writing. It is a book that will make you stop and think about what you are putting in your mouth. If you eat, you should read this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tracy Rhodes

    I'll never look at corn the same way again. This book provokes a lot of thought about the origins of our food and the biological, political, social and economic implications of those origins. I liked that Pollan approached the topic journalistically, with admirably little in the way of political agenda. To structure his book, he uses the format of following the path of four finished meals from origin to plate - one McDonald's meal, one comprised of supermarket organic products, one from a "beyond I'll never look at corn the same way again. This book provokes a lot of thought about the origins of our food and the biological, political, social and economic implications of those origins. I liked that Pollan approached the topic journalistically, with admirably little in the way of political agenda. To structure his book, he uses the format of following the path of four finished meals from origin to plate - one McDonald's meal, one comprised of supermarket organic products, one from a "beyond-organic" self-sustaining farm in Virgina, and one he forages almost entirely on his own. Pollan goes into food science labs and discovers how ubiquitous the use of corn has become in modern diets, and how corn-derived food systems are synthesized and refined into ever more variations to increase our usage and meet industrial demands for market growth. The McDonald's meal he and his family share, for example, ends up being comprised of over 70% corn or corn-fed product (from beef and milk cows fed corn silage and loaded with antibiotics when it sickens them, to corn starches used in buns and chicken nugget fillers, to the high-fructose corn syrup used to sweeten soda and milkshakes). Pollan makes a strong case for how corn and its refined offspring have contributed to the ever-expending girths of Americans in recent decades. Next he looks at the organic market, examining the compromises that many organic producers have had to make to support the demands of national chains like Whole Foods, and what "organic" does and does not necessarily mean. He contrasts corporate organic production with a week he spends working on a farm in Virginia run by a maverick Christian/libertarian farmer who carefully manages a "beyond organic" operation of interdependent, high-yielding crops and livestock on his land. The story of how this farmer guides his farm in a sustainable, symbiotic cycle is absolutely amazing. Lastly, Pollan goes off the grid completely in growing and foraging the means for an entire omnivorous meal - not only growing vegetables/herbs and learning how to scout for edible mushrooms, but actually learning how to hunt and shoot a wild pig in N. California (something my own husband recently did, much to our culinary benefit). The vast majority of people who eat meat will never even lay eyes on the living body of an animal they eat, let alone take responsibility for its demise; so I find a lot of honesty in Pollan's having taken that step in his exploration of the food chain. Overall, this book rocked my world in terms of understanding our modern food chain and its impact on all of us both individually and as a society. As a result, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how I can improve both my diet and my contribution to local/organic food sources. I'm determined to find more ways to eat locally and organically, and I feel lucky to live in one of the best places to do so.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Has served to overcome my general revulsion of journalists mascarading expose as scientific truth (e.g. Malcolm Gladwell or Thomas Friedman). Well worth reading, though a second, scientific perspective (read "not Schlosser") would be a good companion to fill out what this book offers. ---Finished: I take back what I said, what I thought was gearing up to be analytical and thought provoking really unwound over the course of the book. Pollan comes off a lot more like a homespun wisdom-spewing gran Has served to overcome my general revulsion of journalists mascarading expose as scientific truth (e.g. Malcolm Gladwell or Thomas Friedman). Well worth reading, though a second, scientific perspective (read "not Schlosser") would be a good companion to fill out what this book offers. ---Finished: I take back what I said, what I thought was gearing up to be analytical and thought provoking really unwound over the course of the book. Pollan comes off a lot more like a homespun wisdom-spewing grandma than someone with an arguable thesis, at least as he presents it in this book. I'm not saying that his thesis is not credible, it's just that he doesn't package the book with tools to know one way or the other. He could have made the same case for making sure you get your daily dose of moon rocks each day, and if he were able to strike the same nerve he strikes with this book, have gotten the same effect. I thought the book would redeem itself when Pollan hunted his own meal. Instead he prepares it like a girly man. His pig kill is ambiguous, he allows himself to use whatever kitchen supplies he already had in the house, he "forages" for cherries in some stranger's tree, and he requires a friend to dress and prepare his pig for him, as well as bring much of the actual food to the final dinner. In the end, much was conjectured (some of which was interesting enough to earn the book two stars) but the only thing I learned was that we eat a lot of corn and that Michael Pollan is a nancy-man sham. Read this book!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kavita

    Michael Pollan is a food activist, trying to get people to dump fast food and industrial food, and eat healthier. I first came across him in a documentary called Cooked, and I loved the way he talked about fresh food. Eating (and cooking, to some extent) is a passion with me, so I was hooked. I loved the documentary, and I expected to love this book. And I did! The main subject of the book is how maize (or corn) displaced all other crops in the US. Because it offers a better return for money for Michael Pollan is a food activist, trying to get people to dump fast food and industrial food, and eat healthier. I first came across him in a documentary called Cooked, and I loved the way he talked about fresh food. Eating (and cooking, to some extent) is a passion with me, so I was hooked. I loved the documentary, and I expected to love this book. And I did! The main subject of the book is how maize (or corn) displaced all other crops in the US. Because it offers a better return for money for the big agrobusinesses, this plant is often preferred by farmers, who find out only too late that this choice has led them down the path of poverty. Industrial farming also leads to environmental disasters, ruining the land, as well as the surrounding water bodies, for future generations. Pollan also goes into the meat processing industry, and we get to see the sorry state of the cows. Their feed is unhealthy and unnatural, and does not allow them to grow organically. They are kept in overcrowded conditions, standing in their own shit for days on end. The animals are not even allowed a glimpse of the outside world, and even have to engage in forced cannibalism, something not natural for cows. All this is not only terrible for the animals, but their meat also ends up being very unhealthy for consumers. Pollan also talks about the chicken industry, which faces similar issues. Pollan even has issues with industrial organic products, because of the fact that the criteria for labelling anything organic is kept low to help big companies make money. As an alternative, Pollan describes family-run farm businesses, which incorporate a healthy and full life for the animals before they are slaughtered for meat. The vegetables and fruits are also fresh. The variety of crops and meat means that these farms are also better for the environment overall. The extra money spent would be well-worth the benefits. How accessible such food is for everyone in the US is however not explained. I think this is a pretty comprehensive look at the food industry in the US, and the impact it has on Americans and the rest of the world. But the best part of the book is when Pollen himself goes out to hunt, gather, and cook his own food! I don't think I will be doing that any time soon, though!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mandy Nelson

    Ok friends, I LOVED this book. It was a little long and it kind of meandered and changed tone in the last 1/3 but it was good all the way through. This book is about the industrial food chain and the author's adventures in trying to trace where his food comes from. He researches the 3 different processes that go into 3 types of meals: an industrially produced meal (McDonald's), an organic meal (Whole Foods) and a hunter/gatherer meal (he kills/collects everything he eats for this meal). If you d Ok friends, I LOVED this book. It was a little long and it kind of meandered and changed tone in the last 1/3 but it was good all the way through. This book is about the industrial food chain and the author's adventures in trying to trace where his food comes from. He researches the 3 different processes that go into 3 types of meals: an industrially produced meal (McDonald's), an organic meal (Whole Foods) and a hunter/gatherer meal (he kills/collects everything he eats for this meal). If you don't have time to read it all, I recommend Parts I and II. It is truly thought provoking. I've always enjoyed driving through the midwest and checking out all the cornfields. They seem so pastoral and old-fashioned and wholesome. Turns out this is not so true. From what Michael Pollan writes, corn is actually a freak of nature. It probably started as a genetic mutation from grass somewhere in South America. Corn actually shouldn't be a prosperous species but it has been helped along immensely by human hands. The tassle at the top of the stalk is the male reproductive organ and the cob is the female reproductive part. Since the cob is sheated in so many layers there is little chance that the tassle's fruit can get into the cob to start the reproduction process. Somehow it worked out a long time ago and humans figured out how to grow corn. The maize of South America gave way to our current industrialized food system that relies tremendously on mass produced and genetically modified corn. When I hear this I think- "Hmm, we eat a lot of corn-based products, what's the big deal?". Here are the reasons why this is a big deal, 1. Corn is a cheap raw material that can be turned into lots of different "foods". Industrial farms feed cattle and chickens corn because it is cheaper to store a bunch of cattle or chickens in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) rather than letting them roam on a pasture and eat a natural diet of grass and insects (for the chickens). 2. Because chickens and cows have not evolved to eat corn, they get sick. In order to prevent them getting sick, they are given anti-biotics. 3. Corn is also used because it will fatten up the cows and chicken more quickly, which then allows the industry to kill and sell and profit sooner. 4. Industrial-sized farms use pesticides and fertilizer to grow their crops which pollute the land. The extra synthetic nitrogen that is not used up by the crop either evaporates and falls as acid rain (contributes to global warming), or it sinks down into the water table, or it gets washed away by rains into the rivers where human beings get their water. Other key points to note: 1. Organic does not necessarily = sustainable.. You can have organic asparagus flown in from Argentina but that doesn't mean it is good for the planet. Local organic is best because it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels. In addition, just because chickens are "free-range" does not mean they actually live outside and have space to roam. They could be living in a CAFO with a little door that leads to a small patch of grass that is not sufficient for the thousands of chickens inside the CAFO. 2. The treatment of pigs is ESPECIALLY alarming to me! They are raised in CAFOs in cages suspended a little above the ground so that they can shit and it falls to the floor. The cages are stacked so the pigs are shitting on top of each other. Maybe this is fine because pigs seem to like to root around in shit however, the setup is still alarming because they do not have space to turn around in their cages. Because they are weaned from their mother in such a short amount of time (compared to a natural weaning) they have a propensity to suck and bite. They are lined up with each pig facing the next pigs rear so they chew the tail of the pig in frotn of them. The pig whose tail is being chewed oftentimes does not care because of its deplorable condition. The industry has now put into place a procedure called "tail docking"- without anesthesia they cut each pig's tail to a nub. They leave the nub there because it is really sensitive so, when confined to the cage again and the tail is bitten, the pig will squirm and try not to have it's tail bitten. I think this is absolutely horrid. 3. I am still a meat eater but I am looking for ways to find meat that is not industrially produced. I don't mind eating animals but I do not support the living/dying conditions that industrial farms provide. READ THIS BOOK! Thanks for reading this especially long review!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    The Omnivore's Dilemma should rightfully deserve credit for bring issues of food into popular discussion. However, there are some errors and omissions which bear repeating. It is the role of a book about scientific analysis to be as objectively true as possible, and let rhetorical flourish come later. Now, the book itself. Pollan compares three systems of food gathering. The first 'system' of food production is the industrial. Is it still perhaps the least understood and the most demonized. It has The Omnivore's Dilemma should rightfully deserve credit for bring issues of food into popular discussion. However, there are some errors and omissions which bear repeating. It is the role of a book about scientific analysis to be as objectively true as possible, and let rhetorical flourish come later. Now, the book itself. Pollan compares three systems of food gathering. The first 'system' of food production is the industrial. Is it still perhaps the least understood and the most demonized. It has its roots in the 1970s, under Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture, Earl 'Rusty' Butz. After an embarrassing agricultural crisis involving price fixing from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, Butz announced a new policy of expanding government subsides to a new system - the more one farmed, the more subsides they would receive to cover increase costs. It made farmers consolidate and expand, in the hope of driving up production. It worked well. Too well. There was so much surplus corn that few knew what to do with it all. In the 1980s, however, there was a new means of implementation, a sweetener which was cheaper than cane sugar, and thus added into nearly every food - High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Sweeteners and sugars became a staple of nearly every food product sold, from HFCS to 'Xanthan gum'. Furthermore, there is the story of industrialized animal farming, which has drawn much ire. That has become so popular that I will not draw upon too much detail unless prodded. The second system is that of 'organic' farming, which sounds tempting because it eschews some of the more mechanistic tendencies of regular factory farming, and has become popular, especially among the coastal 'yuppie' crowd within the past few years. It conjures up pleasant images of American Gothic. Some farms actually are like this - small, family-owned, with local interest in mind. Some even have integrated peacefully with large discount retailers like Walmart and Tesco, and have made a positive change that way. Some, however, are more unscrupulous with organic food's popularity, and instead perform the bare minimum of necessary tasks, and slap the 'organic' label on and charge higher prices. Another caveat. The third system is the 'hunter-gatherer', or pre-agricultural system of food. Pollan's description here alternates between charming and bumbling, as he putzes around chopping up his prize, steals berries from likely his neighbor's trees, and picks up mushrooms. As a raised Midwesterner, where hunting and fishing is more common - and a source of food, I appreciate this effort on his part, while acknowledging that this futzing around is very silly. The big discussion I've personally heard is on the industrial harvesting of meat, is whether or not to go vegetarian. Another proposal - the economic analysis of the cost of food, of every ingredient, is implausible at best. The modern systems of production are already far too complex for something like that. Although it would not be unfair to at least make broad estimates. And I must take issue with his near-total dismissal of nutritional science, and he takes an overly reductionist view of a rather complex topic. However, I must give Pollan credit for showing us how deep the rabbit hole of industrial food goes, and how little we know about what we eat.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    This was an amazing book. Pollen takes the reader on a food adventure that is thought provoking, disturbing and quietly challenges they way we all look at the meal in front of us - all without being obnoxious or righteous. The book begins simply enough in an Iowa cornfield as Pollen breaks down the history of corn and the future of this simple grain. He deftly weaves this into how we eat this product and what it’s doing to us and agriculture. From Iowa we travel with him as he visits his steer (# This was an amazing book. Pollen takes the reader on a food adventure that is thought provoking, disturbing and quietly challenges they way we all look at the meal in front of us - all without being obnoxious or righteous. The book begins simply enough in an Iowa cornfield as Pollen breaks down the history of corn and the future of this simple grain. He deftly weaves this into how we eat this product and what it’s doing to us and agriculture. From Iowa we travel with him as he visits his steer (#534) in the Colorado fields and in the feedlot of Kansas (Nebraska?). The middle portion of the books moves into sustainable agriculture at its finest as he spends a week at Polyface farm. As a person familiar with farms, Polyface was amazing. Pollen starts the week on his stomach in a field examining the soil, he helps to move the cows from pasture to pasture, he assists in moving the chicken pens and describes they symbiotic relationship between the chickens and the cows. He talks about the rabbit and chicken house and the symbiotic relationship that exists there, he describes the cow barn in the spring and how the pigs turn 3 feet of cow muck, hay and fermented corn into black compost. And Pollen contrasts and compares “conventional farming” with this picture of “sustainable farming”. In the third segement, Pollen has moved to California and examines what it means morally and ethically to be a vegetarian (giving up meat for a month). He has also decided to make a meal completely from those items he has grown, foraged and hunted himself. This book is presented in such a down to earth matter that the reader can’t help but start to question how their food arrived on the table. Pollen doesn’t pontificate. He doesn’t raise his fist and pump it toward the sky and tell us we are all Bad People for Eating Meat. He doesn’t bombard us with anthropormophisism or silly sentiment. He took himself on a quest, shown us what he found, and I appreciated that more than anything. Has this changed how I view my eating habits? You bet it has. Even more surprising, it changed the husbands.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Twice a week, there is a farmer's market at my local park. It is half a block away from my house. For the last several years, I've brought food there. I can no longer eat, for instance, apples from the supermarket. They taste waxy. Considering how much I like my local farmer's market, it's surprising that it took me so long to read this book. Seeing marked down to a dollar helped motivate me. It's a good book. It's a scary book. It makes me want to buy everything from the farmer's market (which is Twice a week, there is a farmer's market at my local park. It is half a block away from my house. For the last several years, I've brought food there. I can no longer eat, for instance, apples from the supermarket. They taste waxy. Considering how much I like my local farmer's market, it's surprising that it took me so long to read this book. Seeing marked down to a dollar helped motivate me. It's a good book. It's a scary book. It makes me want to buy everything from the farmer's market (which is impossible because they don't have chocolate and I need chocolate). I also have to say something that I never thought I would say. Corn sex is fasinating. It really, truly is. In thoughtful, clear, and inticing prose (much like a fine wine), Pollan leds the reader down a menu of food. The first part of the book concerns America as the corn chip nature. It is frightening how much corn is in things; the second section looks at organic foods and farm foods (or post organic), and the third concerns Pollan hunting and gathering his own food. Of the three sections, I enjoyed the second the best. Pollan describes Polyface farm in great detail and no romance. He also raises and discusses important points about meat and slaughtering. The section where Pollan discusses his own hunting is interesting because Pollan himself is not ashamed or afarid to show the reader his exhilaraion and shame. Even the section on corn is an interesting and thought provoking reader. Better yet, Pollan doesn't preach!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette "Astute Crabbist"

    This guy deserves an extra star just for the sheer depth of his coverage! I don't necessarily agree with some of his conclusions, but I admire the way he went out there and immersed himself in the topics he was studying. Books like this always make me feel good about the changes I've made in my eating habits over the last few years as well as motivating me to remain vigilant when I start to get lazy. I look forward to trying more of this author's books.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    A more accurate subtitle for this book would be “An Ecology of Four Meals.” The ecological perspective permits Pollan to focus on questions of sustainability, and social and environmental cost, as opposed to the point of purchase price visible to the consumer. His first meal is the ubiquitous fast food family meal consumed on the road with his family. It is no surprise that the meal represents a choice of convenience over nutrition. What is surprising is that the meal is based on corn, Number 2 A more accurate subtitle for this book would be “An Ecology of Four Meals.” The ecological perspective permits Pollan to focus on questions of sustainability, and social and environmental cost, as opposed to the point of purchase price visible to the consumer. His first meal is the ubiquitous fast food family meal consumed on the road with his family. It is no surprise that the meal represents a choice of convenience over nutrition. What is surprising is that the meal is based on corn, Number 2 hybrid to be precise. This USDA designated field corn feeds all industrial farm cattle and poultry. It is the epitome of successful mono-culture farming, bred to accommodate mechanized cultivation and, in its genetically engineered iteration, resistant to pesticide application. Corn is a juggernaut that affects the way livestock are raised and the way food is manufactured. Cattle receive supplements and antibiotics to tolerate the feedlot stage of their journey from farm to slaughterhouse. Some of the hidden costs? Feedlot waste cannot be recycled into fertilizer. It contains toxic levels of heavy metals, hormone residue, phosphorus and nitrogen. Public health crises of antibiotic resistance and E. coli outbreaks present new problems for the medical community. Corn by-products like high fructose sweetener, starches and oil are at the base of food technology. Consumption of fossil fuels increases as the supply chain moves from local to global. A vicious cycle of overproduction and price supports insures the economic supremacy of this commodity. Is there a sustainable alternative? Pollan shifts his examination to the organic food movement. On the one hand there is Big Business Organic. This is one of the most valuable sections of the book. He traces the tortured language of the USDA which purports to define “organic.” He visits Cascadia Foods, founded by Gene Kahn, and traces its trajectory from organic farming to a niche agribusiness. Kahn states flatly that the organic ideal simply was not sustainable as a business model without a link to a Big Organic distribution network. A pastoral marketing narrative has sprung from this distribution chain, hiding an inconvenient truth. Organic chickens do not live their entire lives in an open range. Organic cows eat organic grain — in the same overcrowded unbucolic feedlots. Pollan concludes: “The big question is whether the logic of an industrial food chain can be reconciled to the logic of the natural systems on which organic agriculture has tried to model itself. Put another way, is industrial organic ultimately a contradiction in terms?” (p.161) As a counter example he visits Polyface Farms, a multi-culture organic farm nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. The cattle are grass-fed for their entire lives. Careful planning prevents overgrazing any single parcel of land. A meticulous choreography of chickens, turkeys, and pigs follow demonstrating a labor-intensive but successful example of sustainable, profitable organic farming. Pollan turns to the psychological context of eating for his final meal. The meat is a wild pig he hunted and killed. The vegetables were grown from his garden. The mushrooms were foraged under the tutelage of some veteran mushroom hunters. He even attempts to harvest his own salt from the sea with amusing results. “This year the winter rains had persisted well into spring, making the ponds deeper and less saline than they would normally be in June. So instead of scraping snowy white crystals of sea salt off the rocks, as I'd anticipated, we ended up filling a couple of scavenged polyethaline soda bottles with the cloudy brown brine. That night I evaporated the liquid in a pan over a low flame; it filled the kitchen with a worrisome chemical steam, but after a few hours a promising layer of crystals the color of brown sugar formed in the bottom of the pan, and once it cooled I managed to scrape out a few tablespoons. Unfortunately this salt, which was a bit greasy to the touch, tasted so metallic and so much like chemicals that it actually made me gag, and required a chaser of mouthwash to clear from my tongue.” (p.193-194) Fortunately for his dinner guests, Pollan turns to the safety of the salt in his pantry. These chapters shed light on the cultural quandary we have created. Speed and convenience in both food acquisition and preparation have deprived us of the sense of anticipation. There is also the disproportionate valuation of quantity over quality. You don't have to buy at a Costco or Sam's Club to experience this. It is almost impossible to buy loose produce at the local grocery retailer. Food has been removed from an emotional context that included smells from the kitchen, a growing sensation of hunger, and an appreciation of the manual labor involved. He recaptures all of this in his elaborate banquet of foraged food. Early in the book Pollan laments the absence of a national food culture in America. “As a relatively new nation drawn from many different immigrant populations each with its own culture of food, Americans have never had a single, strong, stable culinary tradition to guide us.” (p.5) Here, I think he errs. Mobility has desensitized us to the idea of local food as well as the continuous hands-on learning that gets passed on in an extended family. He points out the importance of direct experience in learning how to forage for mushrooms. Despite a stack of field guides, it is the authoritative certainty of his mentors that enables him to forage with both confidence and accuracy (no one died from the mushrooms he served!) When I began this book I was expecting a censorious examination of bad food habits. Instead, I discovered new dimensions for thinking about food. It's about sustainability and humane sourcing, nutrition and flavor, but it's also about awareness and understanding at both the microscopic and macroscopic levels. This book was the selection of our local book club.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    I really like Pollan’s writing style, he brings points home with simplicity, and he is able to cover a lot of ground without the writing feelings unnecessarily circuitous or blustery. More than that though, I like that he is willing to experience. I mean, that’s the very core of responsible journalism, Pollan goes and works on the farms, he helps slaughter chickens, he sits in tractors, he goes hunting and foraging, he throws himself bodily and emotionally into these experiences, and at each poi I really like Pollan’s writing style, he brings points home with simplicity, and he is able to cover a lot of ground without the writing feelings unnecessarily circuitous or blustery. More than that though, I like that he is willing to experience. I mean, that’s the very core of responsible journalism, Pollan goes and works on the farms, he helps slaughter chickens, he sits in tractors, he goes hunting and foraging, he throws himself bodily and emotionally into these experiences, and at each point I felt that he was incredibly honest with both himself and the reader about the impacts of his actions and his emotional state. All in all I thought it was refreshingly non-biased, fair appraising look at industrial agriculture/ranching, industrial/artisanal organic agriculture/ranching, and hunting/foraging. I say that as a person literally smack dab in the middle of row-crop country (my husband and his family farms), as a gardener, and as a hunter. I’ve long had a problem with the way we raise meat in this country, and the lack of connection between people and their food. Its one of the reasons that I do hunt and garden, and its also one of the reasons that I’ve mostly switched to plant proteins for all meals except supper. I am continuing to try and evolve how I eat, and it’s a learning experience and I don’t always get it right (I ate spaghettio’s twice in three days last week, no one’s perfect). But its hard to read this book without examining the role that we eaters have in the natural world. I am going to make a concerted effort to eat in-season vegetables except for those that I froze from my garden in the summer, and I’m going to try and rely on our game meats more. Despite reading much about early life on the prairie, somehow I had never considered that even meat was seasonal, or that foods grown out of season lack the nutrition that we think we are getting. They’re both very “duh” concepts, but its not something that I had really appreciated. Nor had I valued the waste of petroleum in shipping year round under-nourished produce from Argentina to the US just so that we could eat whatever fruit or veggie that we want, despite its lack of flavor. Perhaps the greatest thing that came from this was the conversations with my husband. He listened to the audiobook while in the tractor, and it was great to talk to him when he came home at night about the ways agriculture has changed since Pollan wrote (advances in technology have changed the level of precision for farmers, becoming more environmentally friendly for those that upgrade), but also the ways that it could continue to change. What could we do as eaters, hunters, buyers, and producers in our local community? Books that foster conversation and change always get a 5 out of 5. Absolutely recommend to everyone. Read those food labels. Speak out. We deserve, as buyers, connectivity and information about our food, and animals especially deserve better than what we manage for our convenience.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I can't remember the last time I read a book I learned so much from. This is highly recommended for anyone who wonders about food, obesity, organic, local, vegetarian, etc. Quotes if you're interested (but I could have quoted the entire book!). I know I will never look at corn the same way, nor will I ever buy the "cheap eggs." (On obesity)"Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, I can't remember the last time I read a book I learned so much from. This is highly recommended for anyone who wonders about food, obesity, organic, local, vegetarian, etc. Quotes if you're interested (but I could have quoted the entire book!). I know I will never look at corn the same way, nor will I ever buy the "cheap eggs." (On obesity)"Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest." "Nature never puts all her eggs in one basket." "One day Frank Purdue and Don Tyson are going to wake up and find that their world has changed. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen, just as it did for those Catholic priests who came to church one Sunday morning only to find that, my goodness, there aren't as many people in the pews today. Where in the world has everybody gone?" (About his temporary trial of vegetarianism)"What troubles me most about my vegetarianism is the subtle way it alienates me from other people." (About mushroom hunting, just because it made me laugh) "I found myself, idiotically, taunting the morels whenever a bunch of them suddenly popper out. 'Gotcha!' I would cry, as if this were a game we were playing, the mushrooms and I, and I'd just won a round. This is not something I can ever imagine saying to an apple in the garden; there, it just wouldn't be news."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Afro Madonna

    There is nothing more excruciating than having to read a book you're uninterested in for class. I can't really say this book was a waste of my time though because i gained some useful knowledge from it and some parts equally annoyed me but what more can i expect from a book riddled with self righteous prose from an author who writes in a way that sets him up on the "right" moral pedestal? This may not have been his intention but i do not care either way. I am just glad i finished it and i hope There is nothing more excruciating than having to read a book you're uninterested in for class. I can't really say this book was a waste of my time though because i gained some useful knowledge from it and some parts equally annoyed me but what more can i expect from a book riddled with self righteous prose from an author who writes in a way that sets him up on the "right" moral pedestal? This may not have been his intention but i do not care either way. I am just glad i finished it and i hope to never be subjected to the torture of reading a book i have no interest in, for class again. So long and good riddance!

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