Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What I'm Reading: The Omnivore's Dilemma

I thoroughly enjoyed The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He's been one of my favorite writers, ever since I read A Place of My Own, some years ago. And I stumble across stories by him in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, often quite by accident, and then look at the byline to see who this talented writer is, and there's Pollan again.

The book has the distinct danger of making you annoying to your spouse/partner/children, because you'll be reading along and feel compelled to share a fact about how industrial corn production has wormed its way into nearly every aspect of the American diet. I know my 12-year-old daughter cringes when we go the store, and I inspect the ingredients, calling out, "Yep, there's corn in this, too."

Pollan is an immensely fun writer, because he enjoys learning about this stuff, and he's skilled at taking the reader along on the journey, not just through the facts, but through feedlots, and chicken slaughtering, and mushroom hunting. He takes a close look at the industrialization of food production (which depends heavily and crazily on corn), large scale organic farming, and then at a sustainable farming operation, and then around a meal that he assembles using his hunting and gathering skills (relying heavily on the skills of others).

For our family, this book seems perfectly timed, since we've been making huge dietary changes around here since Halloween, cutting out animal products and most refined and processed foods. We were doing it for health reasons, but this books adds an entirely new level of justification. Not that Pollan is saying you should become a vegan. Not at all. He's saying that we owe it to ourselves to become more conscious about what we actually put in our mouths, and the effects that its creation is having on us, our culture, and our planet.

My only disappointment is that in the final wrap-up, he focuses on the extreme distance between the industrialized food he and his family consumes and the meal that he makes through hunting and gathering, without mentioning enough of the sustainable farm that he'd visited. (That section made me want to go out and buy some land and start farming. Tomorrow.) We spent so much time with Pollan through this book, I wanted a stronger sense of whether all this had actually managed to change his day-to-day buying and eating habits. But those are really minor points.

(Also, don't miss a terrific essay Pollan wrote for the NY Times in January, Unhappy Meals, about what we really should eat. Really, it's the answer to what was bugging me about the end of his book. It should be included as an addendum to every copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma.)


tumbleweedtan said...


It's about time! I've been waiting for you to get a blog. :)

BTW, sorry I didn't respond to your email last winter. I had a few family members die and was quite distracted.

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I shall add you to my links.

Laura Axelrod

patrick said...

Thanks,Laura. (Sorry to hear about the family members.) It feels good to be in the blogosphere now. I've had fun thinking up a whole list of things to write about.