Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Migrated Image

A joy of writing for TreeHugger is that one learns so much, about things we never thought much about before. This may make us a lousy book reviewer, because we are certainly not experts in the subjects of the books we are reading and tend to gush. We learned about peak oil from James Howard Kunstler; about global warming from Tim Flannery, and now about food from Michael Pollan, and true to form we gush again.

The Omnivore's dilemma is this: When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety. The Koala doesn't worry about food- he just chews eucalyptus leaves. Rats and humans have bigger issues. Pollan says that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. He is no vegan, but is a cook and appalled by modern industrial food production, and how it separates us from the sources of our food. Pollan looks at the three principal food chains : Industrial, Organic and Hunter/Gatherer and has a meal from each.If you eat industrially, you are made of corn. It holds together your McNuggets, it sweetens your soda pop, it fattens your meat, it is everywhere. You are also partially fossil fuel- the corn needs a lot of nitrogen and gets it from fertilizer instead of the soil, which used to get it from rotating crops. The corn is fed to cows who are designed to eat grass and get sick from it, so they are pumped with antibiotics. It is fed to us in many forms, because it is cheap- a dollar buys you 875 calories in soda pop but only 170 in fruit juice. The meal was a McDonalds, and was analyzed as almost entirely corn. He does not seem to have enjoyed it very much. For this reader, this section was by far the most shocking- industrial agriculture exposed as nothing but a giant yellow matrix.

Section Two covers the Organic industry, and is far more bucolic. Here, all is grass. Much of the chapter is spent on Joe Salatin's very doctrinaire and remarkable farm. However you will not find his foods in your Whole Foods- he only sells locally. The larger organic industry covers many different interpretations of organic, some of which are pretty borderline but all are better than anything from the corn economy. However the organic food industry is huge; transportation is a major cost. Pollan thinks that industrial organic is a contradiction in terms and is unsustainable, "floating on a stinking sea of petroleum". We may all be eating the 100 mile diet soon, whether we want to or not. The meal sounded good, but a little heavy on the diesel fuel.

We won't go into the hunting and gathering Section in detail; this TreeHugger has never held a gun and doesn't get it. I do have to say that the meal sounded absolutely fabulous.

This TreeHugger has started feeling really guilty every time meat passes our lips, however, after reading this book it is clear that we all have to change our eating habits-. Buying organic asparagus flown in from Argentina is no more morally defensible than eating a locally and sustainably raised cow. Finding my nearest farmers market has never seemed more important.

Michael Pollan is a fabulous writer. The Omnivore's Dilemmna is entertaining, funny and easy to read. I have read few books where I had such a good time learning so much. ::The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan available at ::Amazon

You can read the introduction and first chapter online at Michael Pollan's Website.