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

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
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Jun 30, 09

Read in June, 2009

Amazing book. I don't often say that a non-fiction book was a page-turner and a paradigm-shifter, but this definitely was.

Michael Pollan traces 4 different types of meals back to their origins and follows them step-by-step to your plate; very enlightening, and very well written. If you decide you don't care to read it, at least see the documentary based on it called "Food, Inc" which should be available on Netflix soon.

Pollan starts with industrial fast food and processed food which mostly originate from corn and all it's processed derivatives. This includes the beef that we eat that is raised in feedlots/factory farms--cows are forced to eat corn instead of their natural diet of grass (b/c it's cheaper), which causes all sorts of illnesses, and meat inferior in both taste and nutritional value. He gives an in-depth account of the history of agriculture, the invention of synthetic fertilizer, hybridization, switching from diverse farms to industrial monocultures, genetic modification, the invention of high fructose corn syrup and how it got into everything, government corn subsidies, preservatives and other synthetic chemicals in our food, and the biology and chemistry of it all. I can't believe we put all this garbage into our bodies and especially into our kids' bodies.

The second meal is industrial organic, which has some advantages over conventional (i.e. it's grown without pesticides and with compost, which makes it nutritionally superior as well), but can also be a misleading term, and is still far from ideal.

The third meal is beyond organic--animal products and vegetables grown on a local and completely sustainable farm. Sustainable=animals raised in a healthy, natural environment and fed the food that they're meant to eat. In this closed ecological loop, the grazing and manure fertilize the soil and grow more healthy grasses, and the chickens forage for maggots and other pests, leaving zero waste products. In a system like this, the animals have no need for antibiotics and hormones and the grass and vegetables have no need for synthetic fertilizer. The meat, eggs and dairy is far superior in taste and nutritional value.

The fourth meal is one that Pollan has hunted and gathered himself. Pollan assures us that this meal is meant as an educational experience for him, and he realizes it is an unrealistic food system to have in our day. Though the experience is something he would like to have once in a while, as a way to remind him of the true cost of the things we take for granted. When he partook of this meal he felt a deep gratitude come over him because of his intimate experience with obtaining it.

I finished the book with a more profound feeling of reverence and gratitude for all that nature provides us, a heightened sense of the pleasures of eating, and inspiration to make some changes in my grocery list.
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