11/12/2013

The omnivore's dilemma (book review)

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Michael Pollan
Penguin, 2007

It's time for another book review. Today we'll talk about The Omnivore's Dilemma written by Michael Pollan of whom I earlier reviewed Food Rules.
This book starts with - at least in the developed world - a well known question: "What should we have for dinner?" Pollan gives his readers a long and fairly involved answer to this simple question. He does so by following three food chains: the industrial, the organic and the hunter-gatherer.

Starting with the industrial food chain, Pollan explains this is all about corn. This crop is mass produced by American farmers. Their governement stimulates them to produce as much as possible cheap corn. It's used to produce cheap and sweet food. And for the cattle. In stead of feeding them grass, it gets corn and even offal. The goal is to grow them as fast as possible. Pollan visits a corn farmer and - as he calls it - a cattle metropolis. He adopts a bull and follows it through the chain. His discovery ends at a McDonald's where he has a meal with his wife and son.

Secondly, he researches the organic food chain. He does so by working. He joins Joel Salatin who owns an organic farm, Polyface. In stead of corn, this farm is all about grass. Salatin's land is divided in seperated grasslands. Cows and chickens are moved accross the pastures according to a sophisticated scheme. So they graze and manure the land. The farmer also butchers his chickens and sells them directly to his customers. He favours local production and markets.

Last but not least, Pollan is going to hunt and gather. Some friends take him on hunting and the author shoots a pig himself. They also gather fungi which requires - as we learn - a lot knowledge about nature. Pollan himself cooks a meal with all ingredients hunted, gathered and grown by himself.

Pollan tells a lot about acquiring food in the past and the present. He does so in a respectfull way to the people involved. Concurrently he holds us a mirror about how we produce and consume our food. The menu in the US and in many other rich countries is these days superannuated, sweet and/or fat. The people at Polyface shows us, there are other, more healthy and sustainable methods. He realizes the McDonalds and his own meal are both extremes: fast versus time-consuming. They also come at different real costs for the consumer and society. He writes
"Without such a thing as fast food there would be no need for slow food, and the stories we tell at such meals would lose much of their interest. Food would be…well, what it always was, neither slow nor fast, just food: this particular plant or that particular animal, grown here or there, prepared this way or that."
I like The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's well written, keeps my attraction and gets me thinking about my eating habits.

What will you have for dinner tonight?

Happy reading!

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