The Washington Post writes of The Omnivore's Dilemma:
Most of us are at a great distance from our food. I don't mean that we live "twelve miles from a lemon," as English wit Sydney Smith said about a home in Yorkshire. I mean that our food bears little resemblance to its natural substance. Hamburger never mooed; spaghetti grows on the pasta tree; baby carrots come from a pink and blue nursery. Still, we worry about our meals -- from calories to carbs, from heart-healthy to brain food. And we prefer our food to be "natural," as long as natural doesn't involve real.And Publishers Weekly reviewed In Defense of Food with:
In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes about how our food is grown -- what it is, in fact, that we are eating. The book is really three in one: The first section discusses industrial farming; the second, organic food, both as big business and on a relatively small farm; and the third, what it is like to hunt and gather food for oneself. And each section culminates in a meal -- a cheeseburger and fries from McDonald's; roast chicken, vegetables and a salad from Whole Foods; and grilled chicken, corn and a chocolate soufflé (made with fresh eggs) from a sustainable farm; and, finally, mushrooms and pork, foraged from the wild.
The first section is a wake-up call for anyone who has ever been hungry. In the United States, Pollan makes clear, we're mostly fed by two things: corn and oil. We may not sit down to bowls of yummy petroleum, but almost everything we eat has used enormous amounts of fossil fuels to get to our tables. Oil products are part of the fertilizers that feed plants, the pesticides that keep insects away from them, the fuels used by the trains and trucks that transport them across the country, and the packaging in which they're wrapped. We're addicted to oil, and we really like to eat.
Oil underlines Pollan's story about agribusiness, but corn is its focus. American cattle fatten on corn. Corn also feeds poultry, pigs and sheep, even farmed fish. But that's just the beginning. In addition to dairy products from corn-fed cows and eggs from corn-fed chickens, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup make up key ingredients in prepared foods. High-fructose corn syrup sweetens everything from juice to toothpaste. Even the alcohol in beer is corn-based. Corn is in everything from frozen yogurt to ketchup, from mayonnaise and mustard to hot dogs and bologna, from salad dressings to vitamin pills. "Tell me what you eat," said the French gastronomist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, "and I will tell you what you are." We're corn.
Each bushel of industrial corn grown, Pollan notes, uses the equivalent of up to a third of a gallon of oil. Some of the oil products evaporate and acidify rain; some seep into the water table; some wash into rivers, affecting drinking water and poisoning marine ecosystems. The industrial logic also means vast farms that grow only corn. When the price of corn drops, the solution, the farmer hopes, is to plant more corn for next year. The paradoxical result? While farmers earn less, there's an over-supply of cheap corn, and that means finding ever more ways to use it up.
Is eating all this corn good for us? Who knows? We think we've tamed nature, but we're just beginning to learn about all that we don't yet know. Ships were once provided with plenty of food, but sailors got scurvy because they needed vitamin C. We're sailing on the same sea, thinking we're eating well but still discovering nutrients in our food that we hadn't known were there -- that we don't yet know we need.
We've lost touch with the natural loops of farming, in which livestock and crops are connected in mutually beneficial circles. Pollan discusses the alternatives to industrial farming, but these two long (and occasionally self-indulgent) sections lack the focus and intensity -- the anger beneath the surface -- of the first. He spends a week at Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, a farm that works with nature, rather than despite it. Salatin calls himself a grass farmer, though his farm produces cows, chickens, eggs and corn. But everything begins with the grass: The cows nibble at it at the precise moment when it's at its sweetest and are moved from pasture to pasture to keep the grass at its best height. Their droppings fertilize the grass, and the cycle is under way. There's a kind of lyrical symmetry to everything that happens on this farm. Even the final slaughtering of chickens is done quickly and humanely, in the open air. It isn't pleasant, but compared to the way cattle are fattened and slaughtered in meat industry feedlots and slaughterhouses, it is remarkably reasonable.
We needn't learn how to shoot our own pigs, as Pollan does; there's hope in other ways -- farmers' markets, the Slow Food movement, restaurants supplied by local farms. To Pollan, the omnivore's dilemma is twofold: what we choose to eat ("What should we have for dinner?" he asks in the opening sentence of his book) and how we let that food be produced. His book is an eater's manifesto, and he touches on a vast array of subjects, from food fads and taboos to our avoidance of not only our food's animality, but also our own. Along the way, he is alert to his own emotions and thoughts, to see how they affect what he does and what he eats, to learn more and to explain what he knows. His approach is steeped in honesty and self-awareness. His cause is just, his thinking is clear, and his writing is compelling.
Be careful of your dinner!
In his hugely influential treatise The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan traced a direct line between the industrialization of our food supply and the degradation of the environment. His new book takes up where the previous work left off. Examining the question of what to eat from the perspective of health, this powerfully argued, thoroughly researched and elegant manifesto cuts straight to the chase with a maxim that is deceptively simple: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. But as Pollan explains, food in a country that is driven by a thirty-two billion-dollar marketing machine is both a loaded term and, in its purest sense, a holy grail. The first section of his three-part essay refutes the authority of the diet bullies, pointing up the confluence of interests among manufacturers of processed foods, marketers and nutritional scientists—a cabal whose nutritional advice has given rise to a notably unhealthy preoccupation with nutrition and diet and the idea of eating healthily. The second portion vivisects the Western diet, questioning, among other sacred cows, the idea that dietary fat leads to chronic illness. A writer of great subtlety, Pollan doesn't preach to the choir; in fact, rarely does he preach at all, preferring to lets the facts speak for themselves.
Alright, so. The new rules, as set down by Pollan are, "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Easy, right? Not so much. The tricky part is the first one. Pollan has an extremely narrow definition of food. Without getting into specifics (if you're interested, go read his books. He makes a better case than I ever could.), you advocates the eating of "whole", unprocessed foods. Eat nothing that your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. For him, this goes beyond eating "cheez" products and cutting out high fructose corn syrup. However, given where I live and the resources available to me, I'm creating my own, medium difficulty setting.
Veggies and fruit must come from either the garden or the farmers market, until they both run out (mid-October). The exception is citrus, which cannot be locally produced. We both like a glass of orange juice in the mornings, and I like to add a slice of lime to my water. Bread products come from the bakery, or I make them myself. Meat and dairy... Well, we switched to organic eggs and I think we'll be permanently switching to organic milk soon. I can't quite choke down the prices for humanely raised meat at Whole Foods, so instead I'm just cutting back the amount of meat I serve.
Additionally, I must "eat like an omnivore". Which means eating a variety of plant species every day (60% of the typical American diet is corn products).
The rules don't apply when I'm traveling or at a convention. They only apply to me. My husband can eat what he likes when I'm not around.
And we'll just gradually go from here.