Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book on Food Chains

I finally finished The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. I say finally because it seems to take me forever to finish anything, but also because it really was quite long and took a bit of discipline to get through. If that sounds like a poor endorsement, though, it isn't meant to be. I really enjoyed reading this: some of it was eye-opening and some thought provoking but all of it was a good read.

The author traces four meals from their source in nature or agriculture all the way to his table, reporting on the details of how it is produced along the way: the Industrial Meal, the Industrial-Organic Meal, the Organic Meal, and the Hunted-Gathered Meal. When Mommy Town recommended this book to me, she said, "somehow Pollan makes the agricultural history of corn page-turning stuff. (Corn is sort of the villain of the book.)" Corn does indeed play a disturbingly prominent role in the industrial food chain, the one most of us eat from most of the time. Pollan concludes that if we are what we eat (and from a carbon standpoint we are) then we are "corn walking". How sinister that is is left to the reader, but it made me see processed food differently. It also sheds light on the transition of Organic from a movement to a market niche. Again, the conclusion of whether this is a bad thing or not is left open, but much information is shared along the way.

Pollan is a journalist and writes with an investigative bent, but the purpose of the investigation is philosophical and the prose is at times lofty. Some phrases are beautiful; some take a second reading to process. There is one small section where the philosophy didn't connect with me at all, but I think that had more to do with our different world views. Overall, I appreciated the expansion of world view that this book afforded and I definitely recommend it, hopefully minus the library fines I racked up finishing it!


  1. I picked up my copy yesterday! I'm excited to start reading it. Thanks for the recommendation. I look forward to discussing it with you when I'm finished.

  2. As always, I love to read your book reviews, so thanks! Did any of your daily routine or food buying change as a result of the book? If so, what are you doing differently now?