Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

omni“Yet I wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to speak in terms of an American paradox—that is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.”

A thoughtfully written exploration on our evolution of food consumption and the modern burden of choice. Pollan argues that without a consistent culture to work as the trusted monitor for what we eat, we—namely, Americans—find ourselves at the mercy of faddish, contradictory marketing backed by slanted research.

“It is very much in the interest of the food industry to exacerbate our anxieties about what to eat, the better to then assuage them with new products.”

The food industry has worked relentlessly to feed our increasing demands for speed and affordability and Pollan goes to great lengths exposing the true price of this “industrialized” food.

“The fact that the nutritional quality of a given food (and of that food’s food) can vary not just in degree but in kind throws a big wrench into an industrial food chain, the very premise of which is that beef is beef and salmon salmon. It also throws a new light on the whole question of cost, for if quality matters so much more than quantity, then the price of a food may bear little relation to the value of the nutrients in it.”

This books confirms everything we might suspect but don’t want to acknowledge about our poor food choices and eating habits. It’s worth taking an honest assessment of what (and how) we eat, even if it’s uncomfortable knowing the real price of our convenience.

A solid take-away for me was shifting my focus on buying local (even over organic) food products. Supply meets demand and it makes sense to support local farming opposed to the unsustainable (albeit cheap) monoculture/destructive corn-feeding practices of the large-scale industry.

“Depending on how we spend them, our food dollars can either go to support a food industry devoted to quantity and convenience and ‘value’ or they can nourish a food chain organized around values—values like quality and health. Yes, shopping this way takes more money and effort, but as soon you begin to treat that expenditure not just as shopping but also as a kind of vote—a vote for health in the largest sense—food no longer seems like the smartest place to economize.”

Some worthy highlights: 

“…always living on less than you have and more lightly than you need to.”

“It’s all very Italian (and decidedly un-American): to insist that doing the right thing is the most pleasurable thing, and that the act of consumption might be an act of addition rather than subtraction.”

“Eating is an agricultural act,’ as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world – and what is to become of it. To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting. Many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of an industrial food chain, without a thought in the world; this book is probably not for them.”

“Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.”

“Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds.”

“A successful local food economy implies not only a new kind of food producer, but a new kind of eater as well, one who regards finding, preparing, and preserving food as one of the pleasures of life rather than a chore.”

“We are not only what we eat, but how we eat, too.”

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