The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
Of course you realize that, given the topics this blog addresses and the fact that I am a lacto-ovo-pescatarian, I was required by the universe to read this book at some point. I will not pretend taht it was not a beating. That is the word I used often “OMG this is such a beating”. It was just so long. Probably because I listened to it in audio book format. But that is how I read long, complicated, thinking-type books. In audio format while I am working.
After all the whining about how long I spent “reading” this book, it was hard for me to go back and really remember the whole thing appropriately enough to review it. It was indeed about 4 meals that the author prepared and traced the origins of each one: a McDonald’s meal, a meal from Whole Foods (industrial organic), a meal from a revolutionary form of organic farm (Polyface Farms), and a meal cooked from ingredients all hunted and gathered by the author.
No suprise, the McDonald’s meal was mostly all corn. Corn fed the cows, corn composed all the bread products, the drinks were all corn syrup, even the salad dressing and the chicken nuggets were mostly composed of corn and corn syrup. The remainder of the ingredients were composed of petroleum-based products. So, corn and oil. That is what Americans mostly live on. It made me very paranoid about corn.
He wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the Whole Foods version of organic, since it is only marginally different from the industrial food process, omitting some of the chemicals but still treating animals questionably and carting foods long distances, using a lot of oil.
I think my favorite part of the book was when he visited Polyface Farms and described how they rotate their animals and crops to fully utilize the land and reuse everything to feed off everything else, eliminating the need for chemicals or dependence on oil or corn. It is probably the most holistic thing I have ever heard of in my life. What made it extra neat to me is that we were able to taste some Polyface products while we were in Washington DC earlier this month. Christian had already read that part of the book, and so he found one of the restaurants that serves Polyface produce and meat and we went there one evening. It was called Liberty Tavern and it was in the most adorable little town, right on a Metro stop. The food was AMAZING. Christian told the waitress we were there to taste Polyface food and the manager even came out and talked to us about this book and how they enjoy using Polyface products. The chefs were kind enough to send us a few extra things to taste as well. It was definitely our favorite and most delicious meal we had while in DC!
The author continues to go on for the longest time about how he went hunting (the “hunting and gathering” fourth meal) and how he felt about it. The way he got so extremely emotionally involved in it really reminded me of this guy I used to date who was very artistic and would get very emotionally involved in things and then write about them. I could not identify with this part and after a while I wanted to hit him upside the head (the author of this book, not my old boyfriend) because I got sick of hearing him go on and on about how traumatic it was to shoot a pig. GET OVER IT. Maybe because I grew up in East Texas, I didn’t have much sympathy for it. People shoot things and skin them. Our neighbor skinned several deer right in his front yard several times when I was growing up.
There was also a long section on the ethics of eating meat. He rightly stated that vegetarians and vegans are not exempt from what you might call guilt or implication in supporting unsustainable food production because we do consume a lot of industrial/industrial organic foods including soy and fruits/vegetables, which leave just as much of a footprint as any other food. Just because we don’t eat dead animals does not make us less guilty. And of course, I do eat dead fish and also consume the eggs of hens and the milk of cows. I do worry about how those hens and cows are treated. I realize that “cage-free” is just a label and I don’t know that these hens are truly happy. Probably they are not. I am pretty sure the cows aren’t. Organic milk just means the cows were fed organic corn, not that they were allowed to graze like the Polyface cows are. I wish I had access to milk from grass fed cows, but unfortunately I have not figured out how to accomplish this right now.
So, in the end I enjoyed the perspective, but was glad when the book was finally over. The author didn’t advocate veganism as the only truly ethical choice, as the author of “The Way We Eat” did, and I was thankful for that. He simply gave a lot of information and outlined that, as omnivores, that we have a responsibility to find out how our food is produced and to make choices based on that information. He did not take it far enough to offer solutions to the current state of industrial food. In some ways I appreciate that too, because it is overwhelming to think how far off we are, our motivations for doing things the way we do when it comes to food, and how much corporate money is out there resisting any kind of change.