The Omnivore’s Dilemma (#17/50)

As the title suggests, the main aim of this book is to take a look at the so-called “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” A koala that eats only eucalyptus leaves, or a bee that strictly looks for nectar, doesn’t have any decision to make when it’s time for dinner. When an animal is an omnivore – like humans are – it faces a dilemma every time it eats. We face both a blessing of options and a curse of choices. The book gets very philosophical, and I swear this isn’t a cover for trying to convince you all to become vegetarians, but it is a good book if you’re interested in looking at the true costs of what you eat – costs that go beyond the number on a grocery store label.

Title – The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Author – Michael Pollan

Page count – 411

This book is divided into three parts. Our first stop is the cornfields of Iowa (!!) and the “Industrial” Food Complex to which corn has become both a catalyst and a dependent. From the cornflakes you eat for breakfast to the xanthan gum in your lunch’s salad dressing, from the corn syrup in your afternoon yogurt snack to the corn-fed chicken breast you grill for supper, just how did the humble zea mays plant become a key ingredient in literally almost everything we get from the grocery store?

Our second stop is the “Pastoral” grass pastures to find out what’s truly the most sustainable way to raise animals and grow edible plants. What are all the costs involved in cultivating, growing, marketing, and delivering our food, from environmental degradation to health-related medical costs? And are we willing to pay a higher sticker price for animals raised and vegetables grown in a self-sustaining, minimal-waste environment?

Finally, the author takes a “Personal” journey through the forest to hunt, forage, and gather every ingredient he needs to make an entire meal. It asks the reader to consider this question – how would we eat differently if we could see the entire food chain of everything we eat? If we could see, from start to finish, the life of a corn-fed chicken raised in tightly-packed confinement cages, would we be willing to pay the extra dollar to buy a chicken raised eating grass and grubs in an open field? Instead of buying organic, pre-washed salad mix that was tended by under-paid workers and shipped by diesel truck halfway across the country, would we be willing to buy a more costly head of lettuce from the local farmer’s market, or perhaps even grow it ourselves?

The passage I’ll leave you with comes from the end of the prologue:

“Many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of the industrial food chain, without a thought in the world; this book is probably not for them. There are things in it that will ruin their appetites. But in the end this is a book about the pleasures of eating, the kinds of pleasures that are only deepened by knowing.” (p. 11)

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