The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Michael Pollan.

  • “The whole of nature,” wrote the English author William Ralph Inge, “is a conjugation of the verb to eat, in the active and passive.”

Another food/diet book read this year, but this one is different.  It doesn’t really espouse a typically type of diet as Plank’s “Real Food” (go back 100 years and eat that way) or Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint” and Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution” (go back 10,000 years and eat that way).

What it does is look at the 3 ways we can get food to our table:

  1. Industrial (the typical way most food is grown today — from the corn fields and cattle fields to the table)
  2. Organic (and he shows the difference between industrial organic vs. small farm organic)
  3. Hunter-gatherer (just what it says!)

In each scenario, he follows the food chain from the beginning all the way to his table, where he prepares and eats a meal.  Well, in the first (Industrial), he buys McDonald’s at the end!

This is really a fascinating book on many levels, and it shows how dependent we have become on corn (which is in something absurd like over 50% of all processed foods you buy at the grocery store) and is used in feeding the animals we eat, etc.  He goes into the economics of why this is the case – namely government subsidization of the corn farmers.  The organic section was also fantastic, especially the part that explores how Polyface Farm in VA is doing things — and how they are successful at it.

The problem with hunter-gatherer is that we can’t support the 6.5+ billion people in the world doing that.  A hunter-gathering tribe could only support themselves, only in the right locations, and only if they were not up against other people-groups.  Small scale organic like Polyface seems to work — so going organic and local is a good thing.  There is a question of scale — could it grow to support the world’s population?  That is tough to say.  And what about costs?  It is more expensive than the industrial chain in initial costs.  But what about the long terms costs in terms of the environment, the dependency on petroleum the industrial food chain has, and health care?  Is small scale organic healthier than industrial?  (I would say “of course!,” though some people don’t agree… Namely the large corporations behind industrial and the scientists on their payroll, and the government groups on the receiving end of their lobbying!)

I would highly recommend this book to everyone!  It is long, but well worth it.  If you want the movie version, Food Inc., is reasonably close, though not nearly as thorough.   And it is not an exact copy, or even a facsimile, of the book.  It does tell some of the same story, and Pollan was one of the main consultants.

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