The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan

Has anyone ever recommended a book to you that you are sure you won't like? You just kind of look at them and nod and say that you'll check it out even though you know you never will? Well, that is how I felt with The Omnivore's Dilemma. My cousin recommended it to me and I was really reluctant to read it because I didn't want anyone telling me that everything I was putting into my body was absolute poison and how could I possibly be eating things with high fructose corn syrup?!! I told him I'd put it on my reading list and secretly promised myself that I would never pick it up. Lo and behold a few months later my cousin told me that he had read a book that I recommended to him (it was Life of Pi if you are curious). I inwardly sighed and said to myself that I had to read The Omnivore's Dilemma because since he was open to what I read, I should be more open to what he is reading. I picked up a copy at the library and told myself that I wouldn't enjoy it. What a fool I was! It was excellent!

The book is about a man's quest to prepare a few meals through the different food chains available to humans today. One was the fast food chain/the industrial food chain, another the organic food chain, and the forager's food chain. The book says that it's the natural history of four meals, but Pollan did prepare more than that. I was ready for the criticism that my junk food diet would be under so much scrutiny in the book that I would end up hating him. Not only did I not feel criticized, I actually am a little more interested in food now. From the beginning of the book I could tell that Michael Pollan was a total foodie (which I am not) so I didn't really take the things he said personally. He went to great lengths in the book to prepare meals for his family and friends that they would enjoy using the different food chains. I have to admit that I have no idea what some of the food preparation methods were, nor did I know what some of the foods were so I didn't really end up feeling bad at all. He and I are just different people. Food is an experience to him while for me it is just to put something in my belly.

There are three main parts to the book. The first goes into the industrial food chain and has some interesting information about how much corn is a part of the American diet. I had heard this before, but reading about it actually amazed me. From the corn that is grown in the American industrial farm fields to the feed given to cattle and chicken which eventually ends up on our plates, we might as well be shucked! Pollan goes into the raising of chickens and cattle and tells what life is like in the industrial food chain. Was I grossed out and appalled? Not really. I pretty much knew most of the stuff going into it and have accepted it.

The second part of the book talks about the organic farm and how much like regular industrial farming it has become. Pollan goes on numerous adventures to experience all these farming methods first hand. He meets a man that pasture farms his animals and processes his chickens on his farm. This part of the book was fascinating--I would really like to try pasture fed chicken and beef now! Pollan talks a lot about the sustainability of current farming practices in America. While I think he makes some good points, I also wonder how sustainable pasture fed meat is with the large population we have. However, he does make a point to say that the pasture farming is a niche market.

The final part of the book is about Pollan's quest to forage a meal for himself. He meets up with some really avid foragers that are willing to teach him to hunt and forage for fungi. This was the part of the book that I least identified with. While I am not a hunter, I don't have a problem with eating meat and I realize where my meat comes from. I have family and friends that hunt and I know it's a very fulfilling and respectable thing to do. Pollan has a real moral dilemma with killing a pig when he is out hunting and writes a long commentary about vegetarianism and the hunter. I once had a Biology professor who was also a hunter that told me that you cannot truly respect the meat you are eating unless you kill it yourself. Pollan makes this same point in his book--you are much more aware and thankful for what you are eating when you have been the one that has foraged and taken life to provide life for your family and friends.

All in all, I think any person who loves food should read this book. The information in it is interesting, but it really becomes secondary to Pollan's adventures in seeking out his meals. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I finally finished. I didn't feel preached to or convicted about my current diet. Instead, I felt more informed and aware of what is available to me. The book was really well written and a lot of fun to read and I am really glad I took my cousin's advice! I will definitely be more open to reading things people recommend to me from now on!

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