Laura's Reviews > The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
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Dec 13, 07

He makes some good points but in the end, it smacks of well-off white man over simplifying an incredibly complex issue. What the book has going for it is that it's a best seller, especially to the faux-liberal, over educated set and it's at least making them THINK about where their food is coming from. What I don't like though, is that it lets them off the hook as far as accountability if they just go about buying the RIGHT kind of meat. Well, all of that free range "humane" meat goes to the same creepy slaughterhouses that the factory farmed animals go to so really, from an ethical stand point, it's no better. Oh and the USDA Guidelines on what is considered free range are ridiculous, 5 minutes ACCESS to the outdoors a day earns you free range classification. Also, the idea of getting all of your meat from nearby sustainable family farms who do their own slaughter and processing is really great in theory but then won't it become a class issue when only rich people can afford it? Oh but I guess those are the same people reading this book so it's cool.

Oh and lots of his numbers were way off...he said we kill millions of animals a year for food in this country, more like BILLIONS. I talked to a guy yesterday who worked in a chicken slaughtering line in a prison way back when and said that he was responsible for personally killing 8,000 birds a day. slicing their necks open. ugh.

Oh another positive: I did learn a lot about corn from the book and have pretty much backed away from anything made with it.
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message 1: by Meredith (new)

Meredith Watts Laura, Michael Pollan is a great writer, and a popularizer who has a huge audience. Let's praise him for what he gets right. He has raised the consciousness of many about where our food comes from (plant as well as animal) and all the problems inherent in putting food on our tables. I myself am more up in arms about the Farm Bill, which will continue to subsidize certain "farmers" (Big Ag) to plant corn and soybeans, hedgerow to hedgerow. All the fertilizers and pesticides necessary for this endeavor just float right down the Mississippi into the toxic dead zone in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. And you're wrong that meat from the "Beyond Organic" farms goes to the same slaughterhouses. That's changing. Marin Sun Farms doesn't use commercial slaughterhouses. And everybody should know about Polyface Farms, discussed at length in this book. Talk about living with the land -- they've figured many, many things out. A very valuable book. Let's face it, we have to reach the privileged people with the money to lobby for change. Can't always just preach to the converted. Pollan has the chops, and we should thank him profusely for this book and his other writings. Meredith Watts

Meave the corn information was pretty great.

message 3: by Pierre (last edited Feb 01, 2008 05:10AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pierre Way to totally misunderstand the book and skew it to your veg agenda.

Did you miss the author's point that if humans stopped eating meat, that entire species of domesticated animals would go extinct? A vegan paradise would mean the actual entire destruction of a species that we currently live in symbiosis with. The point of the book is that animals and plants entered into an evolutionary strategy by interacting with man to spread their DNA as far and as wide as possible. The sheer numbers of cows and corn show that cows and corn benefit from this arrangement and would do worse without this interaction.

Did you also miss the point that eating vegetables kills animals as well? Mice and other animals are killed by industrial and small farming practices and pesticides.

The whole point of this book is that eating is a dilemma.

message 4: by Laura (last edited Jan 31, 2008 08:12PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Laura Pierre,

We slaughter billions of animals a year for food. Here are those facts:

Secondly, you are making incorrect assumptions if you think cows will go extinct if they weren't bred for food. There will still be plenty of cows, don't worry. And, you know what, if it took away the suffering of millions and millions of cows every year, I'd love it if they went extinct. No more cows would mean no more cows living horrible lives and dying terrifying deaths. I find it kinda crazy that you think we currently live in symbiosis with cows. The truth couldn't be any further from that insane statement. The sheer number of cows and amount of corn and they way they are both farmed is currently contributing to the attack on the earth.

The animals killed during vegetable and grain farming (especially when done correctly) is negligible when compared to the amount of animals killed in factory farms. Besides, much of that is with grain, bean and corn farming that's done, in large part, to feed to cows and chickens and other animals who will later be slaughtered for human consumption so really, it's connected. I believe that if we moved to a more vegetarian diet, it would be a true act of compassion and would be accompanied by more humane farming all the way around. Doesn't that make the most sense?

It would be great if humans could be happy with the amount of meat they receive from small family farms that don't chemically alter their animals and slaughter on site. And yes, there are some (including Marin Sun Farms which Meredith talks about above). But for humans to live off the small amount of difficult to access, expensive meat that would be provided by such a level of animal husbandry, well, that would be difficult. Especially considering the amount of meat that the average American consumes and the cost at which they are accustomed to purchasing it at. If that's the level that you hold your meat to, well then good for you. That makes you more conscientious and wealthy than the vast majority of the United States population.

message 5: by Pierre (last edited Feb 01, 2008 05:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pierre @Laura
I re-analyzed the statistics and edited my original comment. Most animals, besides chickens, are killed by the millions. Chickens, indeed, are killed by the billions. Still, it is a deceptive rhetorical device, purely playing to emotion, to talk about the slaughter of cattle, and then to say "billions of animals are killed each year".

However, like most radical animal rights activists, you have no actual understanding of basic biological concepts. Domesticated cattle DO NOT LIVE IN THE WILD or APART FROM HUMANS. The only wild cattle are species of buffalo and bison, to my knowledge. Of course, if we stopped eating and raising cattle, no one actually knows what would happen to them...but extinction has a very high probability...especially since wild cows went extinct about 500 years ago.

Not to mention, when animals like domesticated pigs are released into the wild, they cause all kinds of havoc on the environment, as was described in the book, and end up killing hundreds of other animals, because of their habits.

And the fact of the matter is that we do live in symbiosis with cows. Symbiosis is a close relationship between organisms in which the outcome for each is highly dependent upon the other. The relationship is basically any biological interaction in which at least one organism benefits. Even parasites can be symbiotic. Check out and you'll see that humans and domesticated plants and animals at the top of the list.

I disagree with your contention that non-industrial animal husbandry is out of reach for a modern would be difficult, yes, but meat has historically always been significantly more expensive than veggies. Artificially low prices are not good for the economy. We eat too much meat in this country. Doctors recommend eating only about 6-8oz of meat a day...which looks extremely small in comparison to what your average American eats...people in other countries eat much less meat, however.

Also, the fact of the matter is that simply by being human, we are going to end up killing animals in our endeavors. It is simply impossible to avoid killing is a pipe dream...until we start growing meat in petri dishes on an industrial scale.

Laura We're not going to agree on certain things because you're manipulating facts to be make them convenient to your argument. I don't have time for that. You also completely ignore things that I say because you can't address them. I don't think we're going to agree on certain things because it's on the internet and it's hard to have a true debate in a forum such like this.

I'll just say, If you truly believe that non-industrial animal husbandry is possible in a modern society, I hope you are focusing much of your efforts on making it happen because not that many people are. I personally am by working on a California ballot initiative that would give farm animals the ability to sit down, stand up, turn around and stretch their limbs or spread their wings within their enclosures. Isn't it crazy that we have to legislate this? Isn't it also crazy that "radical animal activists" are the ones petitioning for this to happen when we're not even the ones eating animals? It's always meat eaters like you who bitch the loudest about "radical animal activists" who are literally doing nothing to make things better.

When we have to fight very hard to make such a simple thing a law, you think truly humane animal husbandry is going to happen anytime soon? I truly hope you're right. I really, truly do. Because I would be pleased as punch if such a thing can happen...I really hope it does. Until then, I'll do more than theorize on it and try to make something happen and I hope you do the same.


message 7: by Emma (new)

Emma Hmmm....I agree that this debate can't happen in the most productive way in isolation on this comment string, but wanted to chime in and say, I am not a vegetarian and yet, I find Pollan's approach a little too forgiving, which is why I have yet to finish the book. I recognize that I am lucky in that I live in the SF bay area and have access to meat produced on small sustainable farms. I've even visited the cow I was going to eat the following fall. I put my money where my mouth is when it comes to the food consciousness conversation. And to me, that's what I wish Pollan pushed a little more. To Laura's point, the labels he allows people to cling to as "doing their part" are being diluted in a very big way by the industry.

On the popularizing front, yeah, it's great he's raising awareness and we should be glad that he's using his visibility to bring up the issue in a way the general public can identify with, but I do wish he pushed people to feel a little more inspired to connect with their local food economy more than just learn a new label to look for in the big box grocery.

message 8: by Emma (last edited Feb 02, 2009 10:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma I thought you were both making productive arguments till the end there. I wanted to address the 'only rich people can participate in this issue' point, which I felt he addressed. One of the big points made in the book, from my standpoint, was that the prices of corn and meat are artificially low because of huge government subsidies and of infrastructure that supports shipping/trucking/flying food all over the place, then also processing these things to not expire and become totally different things. These things actually cost much more than they appear to, even if you stick to monetary costs and disregard the intense environmental effects. The costs of the chemicals, hormones, fuel, processing plants, certifications and every other myriad thing it takes for this convoluted system to work are enormous, and seemingly unnecessary if we could just simplify to the small farming system Pollan talks about. In short, fairly priced meat would mean that we could have more ethical meat for everyone (albeit less of it--another good thing in my book) cows wouldnt need to be extinct OR unhappy, and there wouldnt have to be any classism involved. One of the statistics that struck me as interesting from the book is that there's been a huge shift in spending over the last fifty years where American households used to spend 1/3 of their income on food, and it's gone down to 1/10th. To me this says it really doesn't have to be a class issue. Pierre- it really creeped me out to hear the "growing meat in petri dishes" projection. I hope we can just have happy "piggish" pigs and "chickeny" chickens that promote productivity in the soil the natural way-- it makes so much sense to me! Prove me wrong if there's a rich white person's skew to this though.. I'm always suspicious of my own perspective.

message 9: by Bynz (new)

Bynz Laura wrote: "We're not going to agree on certain things because you're manipulating facts to be make them convenient to your argument. I don't have time for that. You also completely ignore things that I say ..."

Well said, Laura!

If it's extinction that Pierre is genuinely worried about, then he only needs to be reminded that many endangered species are regularly conserved; there is no necessity to breed, cage, pump them with hormones and antibiotics, slaughter them! Especially for our benefit. Moreover, if he did basic research he would know that, due to clearing of tropical rainforests to feed animals raised for food, he actually contributes to many other species going extinct by eating these animals; the current estimation is 1000 species per year.

Eating plant food kills animals too, he says? What a simplistic cop-out! What does he think feeds these animals he eats?! The killing therefore is, at the very least, twofold.

But we all know it much more than twofold since it takes about 16 pounds of plant food to produce 1 pound of beef. Let's not forget the 90% - NINETY PERCENT (see, compassionate people can shout too)- loss of protein by cycling plant food through animals!! Not to mention that they use nearly 200 times the amount of water required to grow the same amount of plant food. And don't even get me started about the resultant waste production! What an ignorant man.

Joseph Animals taste good. Especially the baby ones.

Elizabeth Wow, there's a baby badly in need of some bathwater here. I find Pollan's books very informative and a wonderful dose of common sense for the large part of the population that desperately needs a wakeup call about the food they're eating. You can also see it as a huge Step 1 in our journey toward a more healthy and humane way of eating, but I wouldn't discount it all just because you don't think it goes far enough.

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