Victor Davis'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
Nov 15, 2017

it was amazing
bookshelves: influences, reference, science-books

As superb as In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. I liked the other one better, as it is a simpler, more practical manifesto in the literal sense. This makes a good companion book for those interested in taking a deeper dive into the history of farm technology, how farms work, and the chemistry & biology behind many food sourcing choices. This is classic Michael Pollan, distilling a complex subject matter into simple, entertaining, educational prose while musing on the big picture aspects no other journalist can really fully grasp. Like the proliferation of junk food and antidepressants in tandem, or the anthropological history of men being "fire" cooks over the grill and women being "water" cooks in the kitchen. The biggest takeaway of this book is that the root of our food chains can be traced back to either solar or fossil fuel energy, and that the former turns out to be healthier for the planet (less pollution, more diversity) and our health (ecologically healthy farms & livestock feed healthy people). There are a good number of economic challenges presented in this book as well, and most are not adequately answered, but perhaps that is fodder for a whole other book.

My only criticism is that, despite the book's rigorously organized content, the narrative thread presented on the dust jacket is difficult to follow. Why four meals when there are three sections in the book? Each representative meal takes up only a few pages at the end of each section. We spend a hundred or more pages learning about farming and chemistry and history without even knowing which food items are even going to end up on the plate in question. In that sense, the book forms a kind of meandering exploration of three basic food chains: industrial, organic, and foraged, with the "three meals" challenge thrown in as either an afterthought, or an overly ambitious concept that never really panned out. Ignoring that slight confusion, this is an excellent read that will open your eyes in wonder (and horror) about where your food comes from, and why your food choices matter, and the implications of your decisions beyond that supermarket shelf. Ultimately, what I like most about Pollan is he doesn't dwell on doomsday finger-wagging. He presents problems, contextualizes them, demonstrates how they came about and how they can be solved realistically. The nice thing about food and health is that any one of us can make a positive change immediately relatively easily.

I've now read three books by Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder, and this, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. I am excited to finish out his CV and read his other three: Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, and Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. (I've seen the 4-part Netflix documentary of the latter, a wonderful exploration of history and anthropology, and look forward to the book, classic Pollan, no matter how long it is.)
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Reading Progress

November 15, 2017 – Shelved
November 15, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
December 3, 2017 – Started Reading
December 10, 2017 – Finished Reading
December 11, 2017 – Shelved as: influences
December 11, 2017 – Shelved as: reference
December 11, 2017 – Shelved as: science-books

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