Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma
I want to preface this little review with two things: First, I don’t really read non-fiction. It’s just not my thing. I mean, I’ve read Freakonomics, and Jared Diamond, but for the most part I don’t enjoy non-fiction and avoid it. But, and here comes the Second point: I’ve been trying to eat better. Weight has been a struggle my entire life, and I feel very convicted that I do eat junk, and I feed it to my children. Before starting this book I wanted to change that, after, I’m desperate to.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is based on the fact that we are omnivores, and therefore aren’t picky eaters, and as such are faced with a plethora of food options, creating a dilemma. Other eaters, like dogs – meat, or cows – grass, instinctively know what to eat. We have options. Lots of options. In the past (before fast transportation, and modern preservation techniques) this dilemma has been solved by seasonal availability and culture. However, now when apples are out of season here in NC, I can buy one at the grocery store from South America. Or, better yet, when I feel like a peach in February, I can just pull out a container of local ones from my freezer that I preserved six months ago.
But really, if it was all about the seasonality of fresh food, and our ability to preserve it, it wouldn’t really be a dilemma. The issue is when we involve science, and economics, and technology and create a bunch of “food” that may or may not be good for us and the environment. Pollan discusses four different paths that our food can take (industrial, organic industrial, organic – or beyond organic, and foraged) and the pros and cons of each.
If you have any interest in what you are putting in your body, you have to read this book. Prior to reading I was sorta interested. I read labels. I’m careful, mostly, about what I put in my body. But now my eyes have been opened.
For example, did you know that since the US government decided to subsidize corn production there is now a glut of cheap corn and everyone is trying to use it for everything. Since farmers can get feed lots to feed their cows more cheaply on corn then they can raise them on their own pastures feed lots now feed corn to cows to fatten them fast and get them to market. So? You may ask? Well, the problem is that cows shouldn’t eat corn, it makes them sick, so they have to give the cows antibiotics to keep them healthy long enough to get to market. Maybe I’m naive, but when I saw stuff about antibiotics and beef previously I didn’t like it, but I didn’t think they were just medicating cows for the hell of it. But they are. If we just stopped feeding cows corn, they wouldn’t need the antibiotics. My mind was blown.
But, the feedlot and the cheap corn have made beef so cheap that we can eat it all the time. Which, by the way, we shouldn’t. My nutritionist says once a week, I nearly lost my mind. That’s not how our culture works, but maybe it should.
After reading the chapters on the horrors caused by cheap corn I was prepared to feel better reading the chapters about Whole Foods. I didn’t. Reading the chapters about “Beyond Organic” and pastoral foods made me want to buy a farm. I didn’t really enjoy the chapters on foraging and hunting, I see value in the practice but even the author admits that it isn’t a way that normal people can live.
I walked away from reading this book with an entirely new view about food. About the importance of using the entire food chain – that animals feed the plants and the plants feed the animals. That we have to keep this cycle intact in order to protect the health of our land and our people. About the importance of eating whole foods, and foods as close to the source as possible.
You know, before I didn’t think twice about buying my daughter pre-cut apples. She loves them, and honestly I’m happy she’s eating apples. Now, all I can think about is how that apple was grown with scary fertilizers and pesticides, it was cut in a plant where it was exposed to who knows what, then it was treated with all sorts of chemicals to make sure it doesn’t brown, then it was sealed in a plastic package (oh the fossil fuels!) or I can just buy a local apple and cut it up myself.
Read this book it’s life changing.