Monday, August 06, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I just finished reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma last night. This is an important book. The 'omnivore's dilemma' is that there are so many choices of what to eat for an omnivore and he has to determine what to eat based on...what? what is safe to eat? what is nutritious? what tastes good? It is a dilemma but what Pollan is really talking about in this book is where our, meaning our species, food comes from. He examines food coming from the industrial food system, where the corn crop is king, fertilization is primarily from fossil fuels, meat is fattened in unnatural ways and the conglomerate food companies process the overabundance of corn and soy into food items that are intended to satisfy our variety of tastes and assumptions about what we should eat. Pollan contrasts this system with what he calls the pastoral food system, focusing his attention on a single farm in the state of Virginia where very little external input (i.e., feed) enters into the complex equations of the farm which produces high quality chicken, ham, eggs and beef. The contrast with the industrial food system is so drastic that this section of the book reads like a breath of fresh air after the suffocation of our sense of morality that rises from the pages of the industrial food section. A third section of the book contrasts these two food systems with the hunter-gatherer system which Pollan points out is not a realistic alternative for Americans (or nearly anyone else on the planet) but which he wishes to explore because it is a stage in which we as a species experienced.

About halfway through this book, which is extremely well-written, I decided to change the way I eat. Maria and I subscribed to an organic produce delivery service which delivers a box of vegetables and fruits from mostly local farms once a week. Although I have not sworn off meat, I am striving to eat organic meat. To date, we have been successful in finding organic chicken. Pollan reveals that just the 'organic' label is not enough to satisfy the truly moral chicken-eater (my words). An organic chicken is fed with pesticide and chemical-free feed but the feed is grain nevertheless. Chickens don't take to grain naturally -- they like grass. I want to find a local farm which has grass-fed chickens which also freely roam as opposed to living in their filth in a barn which they never leave for the grass lawn outside (this describes the large organic farming of chickens). Truly grass-fed chickens will also produce much nicer eggs, with yokes high in carotene which makes them a richer orange color and easier to separate from the white of the egg.

Read this book. It will change the way you eat if you typically eat from the large supermarket foodstuffs. Another book I want to read, maybe next, is also about eating , and it is by Barbara Kingsolver. It is called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Her family spent a year growing their own food or buying locally. No industrial food system allowed! Barbara is a talented novelist. This book promises to be another breath of fresh air I think.

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