on 4 February 2015
Review courtesy of subtleillumination.com
Why do you eat what you do? How was it produced? If you can answer with more than the aisle of the supermarket you bought it from, well done. If you can’t, does that worry you? Is all food created equal and of equal health benefit? Is beef from a grass-lot the same as feed-lot, or vegetables grown industrially the same as organic? Do you know the answer to that? If not, does that worry you?
Michael Pollan argues it should worry us. Three principle chains of food sustain us, all of them linking one biological system, ourselves, with another, a patch of soil. Most of us, however, remain woefully ignorant of any sort of understanding of our food systems. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan explores each of the three methods of food creation, industrial, organic, and hunter/gatherer, and examines the costs and benefits of each.
There are of course two sides to every story, and Pollan is careful to examine the benefits from cheaper food in terms of health and living standards. He’s right, and the animal rights movement sometimes unfairly ignores these benefits. The reality though is that most of us aren’t in a position to decide either way; we remain willfully blind to the reality, ignorant of what we eat and where it comes from. Perhaps the tradeoff is worth it, but we should at least be aware of the processes our food goes through, whether that means glass walls on slaughterhouses or increased education about industrial production. In the end, what you eat is a personal choice, but it’s one that should be made out of information, not ignorance.
on 30 November 2013
"The Omnivore's Dilemma" is an amazing book which reveals more about food industry and the shortcuts they use.
I first read the book almost 3 years ago but I like it so much and I needed to read it again." The Omnivore's Dilemma" is one of the best food related books I ever read. Michael Pollan describes very well the 3 systems we can obtain our food from; he calls them: Industrial Corn, Pastoral Grass and Personal The Forest.
The industrial system starts from a field of corn from Iowa and ends with a fast food meal "enjoyed" in a speeding car. There are a lot of things we don't know when we are buying from the industrial systems which supplies the supermarket; the author reveals some of the best kept secrets about how the chicken, cow and pigs are raised, what are some of the hidden costs of raising animals in CAFOs just to name a few. It is interesting and quite scary to see what tactics the food industry uses and how they hide them with a clever marketing.
The Pastoral Grass analyzes the industrial organic system and its pros and cons and after this we are taken in an exciting journey where we discover the Polyface farm and its unique way of producing food. Polyface owner, Joel Salatin considers his farm to be more than organic. The farm is an ecosystem where trees, grass, animals and people work together in a harmonious way. The differences between industrial corn feed animals and the ones feed with grass are well explained and is quite shocking to see that there is a huge difference between an animal grew in a "scientific" (feed with corn, animal remains, antibiotics and utilizing growth hormones) and an animal living on a pasture and being feed with grass.
After reading the book I am more careful on choosing my ingredients and I opt for grass feed whenever I can. Also I want to learn more about the slow food movement. The Personal system describes how our ancestors got their foods by gathering and hunting. The author describes how he managed to prepare a meal for his friends using ingredients grown in his small garden, foraged and hunted.
In conclusion: a book I would recommend to all the people who cook, are passionate about food or want a healthy lifestyle.
Spring approaches. It's azaleas in Atlanta, cherry blossoms in Washington, and further a field, in Kyoto. On the high plains it is wind. Mr. Pollen did not write a travel book, but because of him I'll be off to visit Garden City, Kansas, inspired by such lines as: "Yet I'm sure that after enough time goes by, and the stink of this place is gone from my nostrils, I will eat feedlot beef again. Eating industrial meat takes an almost heroic act of not knowing or, now, forgetting." He followed the cow that he purchased in South Dakota to Garden City, saw the feedlot where the cows are pumped full of antibiotics, and was overwhelmed by the smell of the products destined for so many stomachs.
This is a rich book, on several dimensions. Just to read it for the sheer knowledge it imparts - how corn accidentally came to dominate our diets, and our lives. How the diet of cows was transformed from grass to corn. He takes a hard look at the politics behind such a transformation, identify Earl Butz, Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture, as being the key individual in bringing us the era of cheap corn. He looks at that will-o-wisp called "costs", and shows how government policies provided tremendous subsidies so that corn would become a "welfare queen."
The book's structure is centered on four different kinds of meals: industrial, big organic, local organic, and the one that was hunted / collected by the eater. One is allowed to ponder how all this time and energy which is tied to the industrial meal makes our food so much worse. Mr. Pollen takes us inside General Mills in Minneapolis, where amid much secrecy very highly-paid individuals are paid to devise food products so that Americans will eat even more, because "Wall Street" demands greater growth than the increase in food consumption which would occur through normal population growth. He takes us to "industrial organic" in California, and truly explains how "organic" is so often "not very." He is never permitted inside a real slaughter house - the companies get away with this prohibition by claiming a need for "food security." He recommends glass abattoirs to improve the process, as was approximated at the local organic farm in the Shenandoah Valley. And with considerably resourcefulness and willingness to venture into new fields, he hunts his own food for one meal.
He is wonderfully erudite, and surprises with such gems as: "For Isaac, the nugget is a distinct taste of childhood, quite apart from chicken, and no doubt a future vehicle of nostalgia - a madeleine in the making." He has brought together numerous disciplines to produce this book - truly one of the essential reads of the year, and one that will quite possibly modify your life. He modified mine; now I will experience spring in Garden City, to overcome the "not knowing." See you there!
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on March 25, 2008)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2010
The previous reviewers have said it all - it is, like all Pollan's books, beautifully written and researched. And I agree with those who said it got difficult to finish. It's still lying on "to finish" shelf!
The detail and history it gives made me feel that this is the sort of book which should be on the reading lists of those studying politics or doing courses in pulic management (as I also felt about Robert Fisks's "The Great War for Civilisation - the conquest of the middle east".
on 28 December 2012
I found this book by accident - it was recommended in the appendix of another book I was reading about (of all things) beer. I spend a lot of time reading about, preparing, and eating food and I liked the idea of finding out more about how our modern food chain functions. This book was definitely thought-provoking and enlightening, though it's not written in a way that will necessarily lead you to a particular outcome - it didn't feel to me like the author was driving a vegetarian/vegan/revolutionary/radical agenda. Rather, it's more a tale of an individual journey towards a greater understanding of where our food comes from - which really resonates with me. It is definitely written with a clear North American focus, but in our modern globalised economy I think many of the same truths are applicable here in the UK (and around the world). It's really spurred me to take a closer look at what I eat (including many of the finer details of the ingredients list of processed foods), where it comes from, and how it was produced. I'm not sure yet what that means for me personally, or what actions I'll take on the back of having all this new information. But knowledge is always good and I hope it will help me be a more responsible, ethical, and conscientious consumer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2012
This excellent book should awaken the reader to the power of major world food producers, pursuing near-monopolistic policies which are, in the main, based upon a non-renewable resource [oil]. These policies, allied to the current near monopolies and wedded to extensive subsidies, will be shown to be catastrophic and ultimately unsustainable in the medium term. Judge for yourself when you have read the book and digested its revelations.
on 6 August 2013
I had a feeling I would like this book and I was right. It offers an insight into the whole of the food industry in the US. Although I am from the UK many practices in the US are going on over here. I didn't find it too bias, I thought maybe the author was slightly judgmental of industrial food, however after experiencing what goes on there I can see why he would be, even if he was trying not to be. I think its a great book if you care about what you eat, where it comes from and how it was grown/raised. Its not a book which will help us feed the world, but it will help individuals eat better. I doubt we will ever be rid of industrial farming, in fact I see the opposite happening no more organic or sustainable grown food instead multinational companies in control of GM food. But that's only because of the power they wield. Hopefully though that will be after my lifetime.
If you want to open your eyes to the food industry and learn something, then I suggest you read this book, if not, then trot off to McDonald's.
on 27 August 2013
If what goes on in the US eventually comes here, we had brace ourselves. It made me really think again about where our food comes from and what we are eating that is making us sick and fat. Good food should be cheap, but this really reveals the extent to which in our times, rubbish food is cheap and is often all people can afford. A sobering, but still entertaining read. I like the author's style of writing very much.Quirky and humorous, but informative too. Anyway, I was off to the farm shop after reading it and resolved to avoid processed food even more than before.If chicken is so cheap, how is it being reared? ditto all cheap meats, farmed fish, pesticide laden out of season fruit and veg. I wonder if history will reveal that one of the prime culprits for public health decline is the indiscriminate use of vegetable oils, particularly corn oils and its derivative,high fructose corn syrup. You won't want it if you read this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2010
This is an interesting and easy read revealing much that is largely unknown about the origin of common foods in America. The author is searching for the perfect meal throughout the book, and looks at the pros and cons of three different ways of getting food (industrial, organic and foraging). Highly recommended.
on 29 July 2012
I bought this book on the recommendation of an American foodie friend. As a supporter of the organic, sustainable, buy local, Slow Food, biodynamic and so on, movements, I must say I didn't expect to learn much but it is very well written and researched. It is seriously scary how far down the path of industrial agriculture the US has gone. No doubt the rest of the world is following in many respects. I was hoping for some sort of proposed solution at the end but it was left a little up in the air. Read it and let me know how we can halt the progression of this form of food production.