In The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan looks at how our food is grown, processed and eaten. He focuses on the rise of corn as the keystone crop in tIn The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan looks at how our food is grown, processed and eaten. He focuses on the rise of corn as the keystone crop in the American food system, and why this is not a good thing. He also looks at how the animals we eat are treated from birth to their final trip into a slaughterhouse, the growth of the organic food movement and how it has transformed into an industry, a highly successful sustainable farm (Polyface Farm) and wraps up with a final section on hunting and foraging. The organizing theme - and subtitle - are four meals the author has, each of which reflects a different food system; A meal from McDonald's, one made from organic food, one from Polyface Farms and a final meal that has to made from whatever he can hunt and forage for in California.
The book is well written and while the author's positions are pretty clear - particularly how much he dislikes the fossil fuel intensive, corn-centric, inhumane conventional agriculture industry - this really is not an advocacy piece. There is no point where he writes "this is how you should live." Instead, he shows the alternates that are out there, points out their failings and, in the end, comes to a conclusion that hard core opponents of conventional agriculture won't find satisfying, that there is no instant answer to the food issue in America.
There are many take-aways from the book. One if that government agricultural policy, particularly supports for the corn industry have heavily distorted what is grown, how is grown and processed and how it is priced. So much corn is being produced that it is used in one form or another in almost all processed food and many that aren't, like most of our non-organic meat, as well as other, non-food products (e.g., ethanol fuel). This would not have happened if various government policies - many well-intentioned - had not been implemented. This then created expectations from Americans for inexpensive, readily available food. This vast bio-machine - corn to cow to consumer - will be very difficult to change. Another is that the disconnect between how food is produced and how Americans consume it, has led to inhumane (and unhealthy for consumers) conditions in the meat packing industry. Many people don't even think about what is in their food or where it comes from, something the author (and I) think is odd, given that we a) need to at to survive and b) it is one thing that we should want full control over.
The book's thrust, however, is not about offering solutions; it is about laying out how food is produced today and how the production systems evolved. It is only through this kind of basic information - and a desire on the part of the consumer to want to know what goes into what they put in there mouths - that the problems in the food system can be addressed. Worth reading.
Note: If you think this sounds interesting, but are not a reader, check out Food Inc.. Many of the themes of the book are addressed in this film; which is not surprising, since the author is in the film and was a consultant to the filmmakers. The movie doesn't get into the issue of hunting and foraging - the last third of the book, but, quite frankly, this was also the least interesting part of the book since it has little applicability to how a nation of 330 million people can feed itself (not to mention a world of 7.5 billion people). ...more
Freakonomics is most useful not for the case studies examined (although these are fascinating) but rather for what it says about conventional wisdom (Freakonomics is most useful not for the case studies examined (although these are fascinating) but rather for what it says about conventional wisdom (often wrong and based on bias, slogans, self-interest and often little else) and for what it says about the use of statistics for developing public policy (basically, statistical analysis can be useful, but only if one is willing to pursue said analysis to the conclusion the data leads to, not the conclusions one wants to find).
The main point (in a book admittedly without a theme) is to question everything, from one's own assumptions to the pronouncements of experts, the media, politicians and so forth, while be intellectually robust enough to follow the data to the logical conclusions, not the those that one wants to accept....more
This is a fascinating look at how culture, in this case the religious beliefs of Liberians, played into the year's long war in Liberia. It also makesThis is a fascinating look at how culture, in this case the religious beliefs of Liberians, played into the year's long war in Liberia. It also makes one realize just how alien Liberian culture (and, by extension, other non-European origin) actually are.
Please note: I am not saying better or worse (although, when one looks at a a place by Liberia, no matter how politically correct one is, it is hard to think human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism are better than our way of doing things) just different. Further, recognizing this, our self-appointed mission to civilize the world (i.e., spread our notions of human rights, power distribution, governance and so forth) is shown to be even harder than one might think.
Anyway, an interesting, if at times disturbing, book....more