Finished! The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The bestselling author of The Botany of Desire explores the ecology of eating to unveil why we consume what we consume in the twenty-first century

“What should we have for dinner?” To one degree or another this simple question assails any creature faced with a wide choice of things to eat. Anthropologists call it the omnivore’s dilemma. Choosing from among the countless potential foods nature offers, humans have had to learn what is safe, and what isn’t-which mushrooms should be avoided, for example, and which berries we can enjoy. Today, as America confronts what can only be described as a national eating disorder, the omnivore’s dilemma has returned with an atavistic vengeance. The cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast-food outlet has thrown us back on a bewildering landscape where we once again have to worry about which of those tasty-looking morsels might kill us. At the same time we’re realizing that our food choices also have profound implications for the health of our environment. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is bestselling author Michael Pollan’s brilliant and eye-opening exploration of these little-known but vitally important dimensions of eating in America.

Pollan has divided The Omnivore’s Dilemma into three parts, one for each of the food chains that sustain us: industrialized food, alternative or “organic” food, and food people obtain by dint of their own hunting, gathering, or gardening. Pollan follows each food chain literally from the ground up to the table, emphasizing our dynamic coevolutionary relationship with the species we depend on. He concludes each section by sitting down to a meal–at McDonald’s, at home with his family sharing a dinner from Whole Foods, and in a revolutionary “beyond organic” farm in Virginia. For each meal he traces the provenance of everything consumed, revealing the hidden components we unwittingly ingest and explaining how our taste for particular foods reflects our environmental and biological inheritance.

We are indeed what we eat-and what we eat remakes the world. A society of voracious and increasingly confused omnivores, we are just beginning to recognize the profound consequences of the simplest everyday food choices, both for ourselves and for the natural world. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a long-overdue book and one that will become known for bringing a completely fresh perspective to a question as ordinary and yet momentous as What shall we have for dinner?


“…we North Americans look like corn chips with legs.”
~Todd Dawson, p.23

The more I read about corn and the farmers, the more I’m depressed. It’s in so much. Yet so many farmers are going broke growing it yet don’t see the point in growing anything else which keeps the viscous cycle going. Really, the government needs to look at how it’s handling subsidies, especially with the budget problems we have right now. If they didn’t subsidize the corn, they would be forced to diversify their crops again.
The more I find out how much corn is in our food, the narrower my options become. But that’s a good thing because it simultaneously makes my diet more diverse. If I can reduce or eliminate all this processed corn from my diet, I won’t feel so bad eating sweet corn or corn tortillas or another actual corn product.

“…perhaps by sitting down to enjoy one of the microwavable organic TV dinners (four words I never expected to see conjoined)…”
~p. 138

Industrial Organic is a contradiction. But I think it’s a necessary one. While processed organic foods are another contradiction, it can be a very useful tool. When I started reading I had a thought, and that section of the book makes me more determined to follow through. Buying organic from Whole Foods, Meijer, Kroger, and even GFS is a step. A step toward the ultimate goal of eating out of the garden, buying from the butchers and from the farmers. I figure the step in between is the Farmer’s Market.
One major thing is how we use Industrial Organic. If you can stick to Pollan’s three rules (Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.), there is still a lot of food you can buy. Of course trying to buy as locally as possible helps also. I figure, something from California is better than something from Chile.
And while Industrial Organic isn’t the greatest for fossil fuel consumption, there’s a lot less pesticide and other chemicals being dumped into the Earth.

“We do not allow the government to dictate what religion you can observe, so why should we allow them to dictate what kind of food you can buy?”
~Joel, p.236

That last part of the book, to me, is just as much about gardening and simply being aware of your food as it is about hunting and gathering. It doesn’t make me want to go out and kill something myself to eat or even to try to find edible plants and mushrooms. But it does make me think more about where my food comes from. Really it is a great way to end the book.

To me, that is what this entire book is about. It’s something that has been lost here in America and is slowly being lost all over the globe. Being aware of where your food is coming from. The closer the source, the better. The simpler the food, the better.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Rating: 4 stars
SuBC: Read a non-fiction book from the NY Times Notable list from 2009, 2008, 2007, or 2006


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