I’ve read two of Michael Pollan’s books – The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food (which will come up in a future review).
The Omnivore’s Dilemma is definitely one of those required college English class type of books. It has a lot of information and can become difficult to read just because of Pollan’s writing style.
But, and this is a big “but,” don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. Force yourself to plow through it if you can because it will really open your eyes to our food system.
The book is based on how difficult it can be to be an omnivore. We have so much food available to us, but what do we eat? What’s toxic and how did we learn what foods were safe for us to eat?
Pollan goes on a quest to create four meals based around four different food systems.
The first meal is based on corn. He goes over the history of corn and how it rose to the top and became central to our entire industrialized food system. He buys a steer from a rancher and then visits it on the feedlot. The meal he eats with his family to celebrate this food system is none other than fast food picked up from a drive thru and eaten in the car.
The second meal is from Big Organic. It’s that half step away from the previous meal. The plants and animals are still raised much the same way as the plants and animals are raised for the fast food meal but this time they are simply raised organically but still industrially. He discusses how seductive big organic can be but in the end it’s really not that much different from good ol’ factory farming. His meal, while drastically healthier than the first one, was still steeped in the myth of sustainability.
Grass was the centerpiece of the third meal. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms to send him a chicken via FedEx, he went to visit the self proclaimed lunatic grass farmer. Salatin’s system is mind boggling and yet completely sustainable. I recently saw an interview with him where he said he was on track to make $1M in sales this year. This meal he shared with some friends two roasted Polyface chickens, locally grown rocket, and a chocolate souffle made from Polyface eggs.
The fourth and final meal was foraged from the surrounding wilderness. He met awesome people that took him foraging for wild mushrooms and out to hunt feral hogs, not once, but twice. He unsuccessfully tried harvesting his own salt from the bay. He made levain from wild yeasts, salad from his garden and a dessert made from cherries he gleaned. He called this his perfect meal. Of course it’s not readily available for everyone for every meal so in a way it’s not perfect.
I learned a lot from this book and I hope if you haven’t picked it up that sometime in the (near) future you will and give it a whirl. It will make you think differently about that stuff you put in your mouth.
**Disclaimer: I was not asked to review this book and did not receive any compensation in any form.