Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

I just finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemmaby Michael Pollan. This is an excellent read, giving insight into our food supplies and how things are done behind-the-scenes. He writes with witty humor and is easy to follow as he describes his findings to the reader.

In this book, Pollan describes the unique problem we as humans have of determining what exactly we should be eating. We have such a vast array of foods to choose from; will they be good for me now, for the long term, or will they harm me(immediately or in the future)? This is the Omnivore's Dilemma. There are very few species on earth that have the amount of choices in food as do humans.

In our modern society, most people have no idea where our food really comes from. We assume it's safe to eat if it is bought from the store and often leave it at that. We know very little about what it took for the food to arrive at the store, ready for us to purchase and consume it. If only we knew.

Pollan attempts to make us aware of where our food comes from by following the making of three meals from the very beginning plants and animals, through the production process, all the way to his table. He includes the Industrial(based on Corn), Pastoral/Organic(based on Grass/Sustainable Agriculture) and Personal/Hunter-Gatherer (based on the Forest/Foraging/Gardening).

Had I not already battled Corn Allergy, I would have been skeptical about what Pollan writes about how corn has infiltrated our food supply. Having gone through the whole avoiding-corn thing, I find it heartening that others that are not allergic to corn are also becoming aware of this and spreading that awareness. Pollan explains how the Industrial food system became dependent on corn, and how corn ended up being in so many of our foods. One main point in this section is how "You are what you eat" is very true, but it also extends into "You are what you eat eats, too." It is amazing to see how much we rely on corn, not only for food but for many other things as well.

I found the Pastoral/Organic section of the book inspiring. Pollan interviews various "experts" in each of the types of farming/food production. One such person who was interviewed was Joel Salatin, author of Everything I Want to Do is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front, as well as a plethora of other books in which he shares his farming experiences and techniques. Pollan's perspective of the Salatin farm(Polyface Farms) is entertaining as well as educational. I have put some of his ideas and techniques in the back of my mind for future use and hope many others are also planning on utilizing them as the need for Sustainable Agriculture comes to a head.

The Personal/Hunter-Gatherer section of the book was a rather insightful section as Pollan dealt with the whole aspect of hunting and gathering from nature and how these things are viewed both from the hunter's perspective and from the "outside". He also dances around issue and option of vegetarianism, with respect, and comes to his own conclusions based on what he has seen in each of these arenas of food production.

I highly recommend this book, whether you are interested in raising your own food, eating healthy foods, or making food choices that are environmentally friendly. It's good to know where your food is actually coming from. Ignorance is not always bliss.

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