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

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
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's review
Jun 14, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, general-nonfiction, food
Read in June, 2010

I started reading this book after reading Food Rules, which got me interested in what Michael Pollan had to say in a larger landscape. I had seen the “New York Times Book Review Books of the Year” sticker and I’d heard the title, but I was not at all sure I’d have the stamina to read about what I was really eating until I read Food Rules. But I’m so very glad to have read this book, which was a million times better than Skinny Bitch.

For the first time in a long, long time, I am trying to change my eating habits, but not to please anyone. I want to be healthier because I now know some of what goes into the processed foods I’d been eating. I confess that I have been to—and dropped out of—Weight Watchers about five times now. In the meetings, they tell you a lot of different things about cutting out fat (and learning to like vegetables with no butter, no margarine, and no taste—but only some of them feel this way), but the one thing all meetings across America agree on is avoiding “the center aisles” of the grocery store. Those center aisles are where the processed foods are. (And yes, I have been to WW meetings in different cities in both Kentucky and Missouri.) I actually didn’t really listen to this advice (which is probably one reason for being a five-time dropout) until I started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Michael Pollan breaks it down for you and lets you know what you’ve been eating, all without a particularly dogmatic or arrogant attitude. He’s also not preachy, which is commonplace in books about food and nutrition (e.g. I love Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but she’s a bit preachy and it’s sometimes off-putting).

Pollan has succeeded in making me re-evaluate my habits because he presents these facts and observations without a moral tone. He is careful and thoughtful—and yes, deliberate—in his observations. I came away from the book with lots of choices about food to make—otherwise known as the omnivore’s dilemma—but no surety about what the author had decided for himself. I like to think for myself, and Pollan has allowed me to do that.
This book is meticulously researched and the prose is smooth—which is to say unnoticeable—and Pollan has my highest compliments. I never felt like I was reading a book by a man who set out to take down the food industry. Instead, I was reading a book by a very curious man who asked questions and threw some light on a very important—and private—industry. This was no expose, not in the typical sense.

I was a little less drawn to the final part, where Pollan tried to make his own “perfect meal,” but I suppose that might’ve been a lack of interest in the autobiographical writing. (Pollan is more of a researcher and newspaper story writer than someone who would write good narrative essays.) I had also gotten used to having so much information to digest that my brain slowed down and the final section seemed (almost) out of place.

I admit that it took me several weeks to read this book because I had to try to absorb everything Pollan was telling me. This is not a book to plow through. You owe it to yourself, your body, and your society to carefully consider what Pollan says. In the process of reading this book, I stopped eating beef (and now caged-chicken eggs), but that was my own choice and I was not admonished to stop eating either of them. I was merely given the facts.

I was telling my hairstylist about my choice to give up red meat, and the book, and he said, “It sounds like one of those cases where ignorance is bliss.” Actually, I’m quite happy to know now. And since I’ve been eating better (though this week has been a struggle), I actually get out of bed in the morning not feeling like I’ve been run over by a dump truck. (I’m not a morning person.)

I guess what I’m saying is: read it for yourself. (Of particular interest are the corn parts and the section where he discusses Peter Singer and his books as reasons vegetarians cite for no longer eating meat. I was fascinated and I have to say I don’t agree, but I digress.)

Also recommended: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Food Rules by Michael Pollan, and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (though I haven’t read that much of it). And the movie Food, Inc. Not recommended: Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin.

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Reading Progress

06/14/2010 page 277

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