Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma
I wanted to talk about this book, because A. It is a fantastic, educational, and entertaining book, and B. As a proponent of eating meat, I like to dig deeper into what that means, and why I am extra picky about the meat I eat. I believe this book gives a practical look at how we eat food here in America.
The big idea of this book is really just laying out the truth of what it means to be an omnivore in today’s America. It lays out the journey of food, the journey that we may never think about as we just walk into a supermarket and put everything we need into a basket.
The author, Michael Pollan, takes you through all of the behind-the-scenes of many of the most commonly consumed products in the American diet. He started out on a corn farm in Iowa. This was most intriguing to me because the town that he was in is only a few miles from where I grew up. Growing up in Iowa gave me a sense of pride for corn farmers, as everyone I knew grew corn and soy beans, including my family. I did, however, start to question it all as I left high school, and now I can’t stand the system. This portion of the book especially enforced all of my fears of how things were really run on those farms and the farmers themselves (not to mention the terrible living conditions of the animals.)
In talking about the history of corn, Pollan painted a strange picture of the evolution of corn into what farmers now use today. I have never thought about a plant adapting in ways that they get the most benefit out of being harvested by a human. It really showed the great big picture of how everything works together, even if it is not the most ideal situation. Corn was not originally grown in straight lines, packed together, for hundreds and hundreds of acres, but now that it is, the corn as changed enough so that it can thrive and reproduce under those specific conditions.
Pollan’s comparisons between conventional farms and farms such as Joel Salatin’s ‘beyond organic’ farm still blows my mind. We have taken such a self-sustaining system, and tried to make it work better for us (in terms of profit) while creating even more problems that would have naturally taken care of themselves, therefore causing more problems while trying to fix the initial problem. For example, confinement animals are in such close quarters to each other and to their feces, that they get sick. Then they need to be given antibiotics. These antibiotics go on to create superbugs, etc. Where as in the case of pasturing cows, they are spreading their manure around on grass, which in turn fertilizes the grass, the chickens eat bugs, and none is worse for it. The chicken is fed, the grass is fed, the cow is fed, and no one is sick.
Now came the part of the book that I was dreading, the part where the author takes you on a psychological journey about the ethics of eating animals. I was afraid of this chapter because I just knew that he would make an argument against eating meat that I couldn’t counter. Instead, it asked questions that I think everyone should ask for themselves, but left me still convinced and certain that the circle of life is just as it should be, as long as we do it the right way and respect the animals that we eat.
Another interesting section of the book was about mushrooms. He basically explained how mushrooms are unexplainable, and how the mystery of them is probably why people are so intrigued by them, and enjoy the risk of the hunt.
Pollan brought all of this together by eating meals that he could trace back to their very beginnings. It really painted an incredible picture of complex our food system is, compared to how simple it used to be. I have always wanted to focus on shedding light on how there is a right way and a wrong way to eat animals, and help people make decisions based on that fact, and the same for conventional farming that leads to highly processed foods. Omnivore’s Dilemma struck a chord in me that has really inspired me to help more people actually think about what they are eating, where it came from, and who all it effected.