The Omnivore’s Dilemma – a brief synopsis of a great book

November 1, 2010
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            I am nearly done reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. It is a fantastic book that attempts a seemingly simple and benign question: “What should we have for dinner?” 

To answer this, he tried to use a naturalistic point of view which focuses on the approaches and studies of ecology, anthropology, and personal experiences of individuals. The book is divided into three sections: corn, grass and forest. He describes four basic ways in which we obtain food: industrial, organic, self-sufficient farming and hunter-gatherer.

Pollan stresses in this book that our eating choices will not only affect our own health but it will also affect the health of the environment that sustains the life on earth.

Industrial focuses on the food-production systems from which majority of American meals are made. This is mainly based on corn, whether it is eaten directly from the supermarket or a fast-food meal, fed to livestock or processed foods.  

Pollan talks about how the corn plant came to dominate the American eating lifestyle through a combination of biological, cultural, and political factors.

Why corn? Because corn is the most efficient way to produce energy. Pollan found this by dissecting a fast-food meal ingredient by ingredient to show how much corn and soybean Americans ingest.

Pollan also studies the “industrial organic food” supply chain to know whether this kind of food source is truly better for us and for the planet. In our modern days, organic foods are gaining popularity.

Pollan studies this by comparing the large-scale industrial “organic” farm to a more traditional farming operation where farmers work within their lands based on natural ecology.

To explore this concept, Pollan examines a meal made entirely of food purchased at Whole Foods, a famous national purveyor of organic food. Then, he investigates a local self-sufficient farming – PollyAnna Farms in Virgina.

He makes a salad from his own garden, bakes bread using wild yeast and produced dessert from cherries on his neighbor’s yard. Lastly, he tried the hunter-gatherer food supply chain. In this section, Pollan attempts to prepare a meal using only ingredients he has hunted, gathered, or grown himself – i.e. foraging.  In conclusion, he states that “industrial eating” obscures crucially important ecological relationships and ultimately harms humans’ health. From his experiment, he realizes that “what you are is what you eat”. We should remember that the nature is the source of our food and not the industry.

Sources:

Pollan, M. (2006). Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The Penguin Press. USA.

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