404 of 423 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I could go on and on . . (look below)
When I bought this book for my dad he simply said, "A book about food?" I laughed and tried to tell him it is probably more about what is wrong with the country (government, business, foreign policy) than it is about food.
I heard Michael Pollan speak on NPR about this book and that sparked my interest. He was railing against corn as he does in the first...
Published on July 31, 2006 by Steve Chernoski
1,894 of 2,077 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Trouble with Agriculture....
I didn't expect to learn much from Michael Pollan's new book, _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ - since I write and talk regularly about the problems of industrial agriculture, local food production and sustainability, I thought that while I'd probably enjoy his writing (I took a great deal of pleasure in his prior books on gardening), his book would be enlightening to a rather...
Published on June 18, 2006 by Eric A. Woods
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've ever read on Food,
I can't believe it happened to me. I never thought it would, my ego integrity being such that I thought I would never become so completely a different person. But it did happen. In the span of a few seconds I uttered words that were so alien, so not me it could have been stated by a complete stranger. I was not being ironic or funny. I didn't even realize what I said until I was finished saying it and then for a fleeting few moments I couldn't be sure it was really me thinking and saying this phrase, "For Gods sake, this is a health food store, why are they selling soda? And for that matter, what the hell is organic soda?"
As my wife pulled away from the end rack of said offending soda I suddenly had the most jolting moment of clarity in the middle of our local Nature's Harvest health food store. Despite every effort to the contrary, my wife's newfound allergy to wheat plus our collective endeavor to lose weight and eat better had turned me into one of those obnoxious foodie types that turn up their nose to anything found at your local supermarket. Folks, this is not me. A scant year ago three square meals consisted of a cereal bar (Cocoa Puffs or Cheerios) for breakfast, Tyson breaded chicken patties for lunch, and a plentiful serving of Taco Bell for dinner.
My indulgence of Taco Bell was legendary going all the back to high school. In fact, I lunched their so often that when I went away to college in Pittsburgh for a semester, it was rumored that the local Taco Bell I frequented went out of business because I was not their to support any longer.
So how does one go from such a complete junk food junkie to obnoxious health conscious foodie so darn quickly? The answer lies in "Botany of Desire" author and journalist for the New York Times Magazine Michael Pollan's newest masterpiece, "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals." In this book Pollan takes great pains to show his readers how the average American meal develops and evolves from the farm to our plate. Many books these days concentrate solely on fast food and how horrible it is for you but Pollan not only tackles that well worn material, he goes above and beyond in displaying the entire military-industrial food chain that supplies every mainstream food outlet from Wal-Mart to the local bodega, from any major Supermarket to most American eateries.
When I bought this book I figured I'd be taught many things about Mad Cow Disease, pesticides and growth hormones, concentration camp-like conditions for farm animals, and most probably Franken-foods (genetically modified or cloned). That's all in there but it is under the most odd of headings; corn.
According to Pollan corn is THE building block of the entire non-organic, non-foraged, food chain. That's right, I said corn. I realize that at first glance, aside from barbeques and vegetable medley's, one does not see corn so completely spread far and wide as Pollan insists it is. But that is what makes his book so incredible and such a pleasurable read. Pollan visits one of the biggest agribusiness farms in America and asks all of the right questions.
What we find is not only the history of how corn dominated human society by domesticating us (rather than the assumed belief that we domesticated corn) we follow Pollan on the path of corn as it finds its way into nearly every available food on the market in stores and restaurants. From the object itself, to meals fed to animals we eat (like chicken and beef), to byproducts such as high fructose corn syrup (which I swear is in nearly everything but the air we breathe) to even the heart of food policy as written by our Congress and paid for with taxpayer dollars. By the end of this section that was entirely dedicated to corn and its nightmare offspring, the quite literally named military-industrial food chain, I found myself wandering the eateries and shopping centers of Tampa crying out that everywhere lurked dreadful and unhealthy corn a la Charlton Heston of Soylent Green fame. Morgan Spurlock already had me yelling at every McDonalds that it was "Evil!" like I was a poor mans Abe "Grandpa" Simpson, so Pollans empire of corn revelation only made my food induced hysteria oh so much worse.
Incidentally, between the aforementioned wife's allergy and subsequent discovery that even hot dogs and hamburgers had wheat in them combined with my reading of Pollan's book and his description of corn, our car rides are peppered with the both of us screaming out of the car windows at every opportunity in banshee song, "Wheat...corn...wheat...corn, everywhere is wheat and corn...oh woe is us, woe-is-us!"
But Pollan does do what most anti-agribusiness people do. He doesn't rest easy on the lazy thinking that we should all blindly start shopping at organic food stores like Whole Foods Market without asking equally intrusive and instructive questions. Pollan tackles the organic food industry with as much veracity and gusto as he did with the industrial food chain. In the section simply titled, grass, we learn more about the natural order of food ecology and just how far we've drifted from what is the natural order of eating and raising food. He also teaches the difference between organic, USDA approved organic and the even healthier but lofty local food chain. By the end of this chapter Pollan had me searching the aforementioned Nature's Harvest for foods and condiments that were produced in Tampa, FL (where I live) because now even organic wasn't good enough for me. About this time a good friend called me and when I told him of my dilemma he suggested I start working a second job to pay for my new food obsession or seek an intervention.
The last chapter, the forest, is about hunting and gathering ones own dinner. Pollan manages to write a beautiful and intelligent piece about the way we eat in modern times without the trappings of hoity, elitist language and attitude present in most writings about food and health. However, though in the end the chapter is saved by Pollans humbleness and genuine intellectual curiosity about the subject of hunting and gathering, boy does this final part of the book skate close to the edge of unrealistic. Thankfully, Pollan acknowledges that we are not about to as a society start to reverse evolution and drop agriculture in favor of returning to hunting and gathering. He only goes through with this experiment for the purposes of illustration not as a viable alternative to eating corn meals and faux organic products. His message is simply know what you are eating, make smart decisions and moderate your impulses.
"The Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan is a wonderful book. It has achieved the much-vaunted (if I do say so myself) position of one the few books I insist that everyone should read. Other books in this category include the Pulitzer Prize winning epic by Jared Diamond, "Guns, Germs and Steel." For anyone with a serious interest in the modern food chain or simply eating healthier, you should definitely read, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan. I promise it won't make you nearly as nuts as it made me, I'm just a bit overdramatic and obsessive is all.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Food System Jefferson wanted,
A well written and researched book examining the food system we have with glimpses of what an alternative food system might look like. The farm that excites Mr. Pollan is Polyface Farms in Virginia- grass fed beef, free range chickens, happy pigs. Well... I grew up near Amish country and to me.... Polyface Farms sounds like an Amish farm. No alcohol, no caffeine, no TV, slaughter you own meats, be self sufficient. The thing is, Amish people have 5 or 6 kids to help work the farm and most families have a couple of those kids leave the Amish life for the attractions of American culture. Farm work is physically demanding and almost requires a vow of poverty. During my father's generation, farm boys all over the US were delighted to leave the farm and work in offices or factories. A mass return to self sustaining farms is not likely and would not be able to feed our big cities. Mr. Pollan's strongest point, and one should be the key focus of all concerned citizens, is that the whole industrial food system is based on cheap fossil fuels. Every input to industrial farming, from the fertilizers to the tractor fuel through the processing and marketing uses petroleum. The final cost for a calorie of food is more than 10 calories of fossil fuel. The major weakness of the book is the lack of discussion of the ethanol business and how the additional demand for corn as an ethanol input is exacerbating the trends discussed... burnout of the land, overuse of fertilizer, and non-sustainability. Likely Omnivore's Dilemma was written before the corn-ethanol nexus was so apparent. This is a great book which repays close reading.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important books in decades,
I have to say, this is one fantastic book. Amazing. One of those rare books that forces your eyes wide open to an issue that you'd only dimly been aware of. It's one of those books everyone in the country should read, one that should be of cataclysmic proportions and Change Everything.
I won't destroy the effect of the book by trying to re-state the information in the book and doing a bad job. Let's just say that everyone who eats food should read it.
As a rationalist, I've always been sympathetic to the "Organic foods" movement but uncomfortable with all the pseudo-mystical thinking that's often associated with it. It made sense to me in principle that growing food the way evolution intended made sense, but I found the arguments I often encountered to often be mostly feel-good, unspecific talk about Cycles of Nature and Gaia and Earth Mother and so on. They weren't fact-y enough for me. This book definitely is. It doesn't have one pseudoscientific vibe to it. Conservatives can read it just as comfortably as the most crunchy-granola hippie.
Pollan should have won a Pulitzer Prize for this book. It's magnificently researched and written. It has plenty of hard fact, but instead of being boring, his clear, simple writing brings them to life and gives them meaning. He makes his cases carefully, using evidence and fact, and gradually builds to conclusions that I'm forced to admit are inescapable. It's one of those few fantastic books that takes a subject that's usually dull and dry and makes it not just interesting but, at least for me, *gripping*. It not only educated me about a whole hell of a lot of things I didn't know, but it walked me though, step by logical step, the reasons why the way our current food production system is seriously broken and horrible for us the consumers, for the farmers, for the plants and animals involved, and for the planet. I had heard this time and time again from various people, but I always took it with a big grain of salt because the people saying these things also often said ridiculous things about other topics, and I thought their virulence might be largely fed by generic anti-capitalist bias.
While I was never exactly an opponent of natural foods or a fan of factory farming, my feelings were nonspecific because I hadn't really looked into it very much, and I had a real skepticism of all the wild accusations made by the more radical people in some movements. But now, I'm convinced. Michael Pollan has presented me with actual objective facts, presented clearly and logically, in an unbiased way, and convinced me through the sheer power of his reasoning. My mind wasn't changed 180 degrees, but it was definitely changed 90 degrees. In some cases the logic is so clear it had me practically slapping my forehead in shock at how stupid people can be. It's been quite a long time since I've been so captivated by the crystal clear beauty of the elegant logic in a perfectly crafted argument.
One thing I like best is that Pollan is largely unbiased himself. Yes, the book does come to conclusions that are very much against some practices and for very much for others, but he makes the arguments so clear and strong that you can only end up agreeing with him. He doesn't, for example, come out with a glowing, uncritical, credulous affirmation of "organic" food, as I had expected. While generally positive, he acknowledges serious problems with the system.
I can't recommend this book any more strongly. If it's completely ignored by government and industry - and I'm sure it will be - it's a crime. This may be the most important book in decades.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read... know your food,
Pollan is an excellent storyteller and brings what would be a very dull topic to life. Yes, while it is somewhat repetitive, I think it helps to drive home certain points. Like the fact that industrial farming forces food to be shipped all over the country every single day. The amount of petroleum that is used in and for food production is staggering. I am a true believer in eating local whenever possible. I guess the best thing we can all do is grow our own gardens and compost everything we are able. For city dwellers, that's where using local markets comes in.
I happen to live in Virginia, near Polyface Farm. And Joel Salatin is in fact a remarkable farmer. Pollan's description of his farm and practices was right on target. As for using Joel's model to revolutionize the food industry, both Salatin and Pollan have said that we can't expect to change all the feedlots into grass farms. But we can be aware that many of us have a choice to support our local agriculture through markets, CSA's, and direct marketing opportunities. The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia may not be the corn basket of America, but it is the largest cattle and poultry area in the state. And besides Joel there are organic and conventional farms and dairies that provide products to the local area as well as to the industrial factory.
I am happy to have that choice in this area, and have taken steps not only to grow and compost on my own property, and to share that bounty with friends and neighbors, but also to frequent farmers markets, local butchers who provide local meats, and even Joel's farm for his wonderful eggs and other products.
And as for the reviewers who still criticize this book because of their vegetarian and vegan viewpoints, I believe in reducing dependency on animal proteins for both health and environmental reasons. But I don't believe that every person is meant or even able to sustain a vegetarian or vegan diet. Just as some people's bodies don't function well with animal proteins or milk, there are many others who cannot function properly without it.
It's not right to judge someone for eating meat just as it's not right to judge another for not. I think Pollan is to be applauded for deciding that he should at least try a vegetarian diet and study the arguments for and against before making up his mind. Many would not go that far. So for him to decide that he could, in good conscious eat meat, who is anyone to say that he shouldn't? At least he's tracked where his food comes from, has done the killing himself, and has seriously considered his options.
I recommend this book for everyone who has ever been concerned with what they put in their bodies. Make your own choices in the end and be willing to keep evaluating those choices and stand by them.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The food we eat - Thoughts, questions, effects worth pondering,
This is one of those rare books that gets a person thinking seriously about topics not usually pondered: How has our food system, in just a few decades, developed into today's industrial, factory-fed, subsidized corn-based model? What are the costs and consequences of the model? Who pays them? Why is our system usually portrayed as the only viable means to feed ourselves? Who's in control? Is organic any better?
"Dilemma" is engaging and readable, the type of book you'll find yourself mentioning and recommending to friends, even if you're among the majority of Americans (like me) who puts more thought into the gas we put into our cars than the food we put into our mouths.
There are indictments here of the industrial food system, the politics, special interests, and marketers that brought the system to its dominate role, and the price-obsessed consumer who buys into the system asking no questions. There's also a clear explanation that gives many of us our first awareness of how petroleum-dependent our food system is. We are, in a real sense, eating petroleum when we eat many food products because synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are manufactured from oil and gas.
The book also gives insights into the environmental costs today's over-fertilized, monospeciatic, concentrated feed-lot systems have on the land, water, and air. It's not a pretty picture. And the questions Pollan raises about animal ethics are important, leading the reader to ask himself whether choices I make in the grocery are consistent with my views on how animals should be treated. For example, the usual supermarket egg is produced by a chicken that "lives" its entire productive life in a horrendous cramped cage. Just so we can buy eggs for 79 cents/dozen.
This book was a pleasure to read. Even if it turns out that all the numbers he cites arn't exactly accurate, or that there are other views to counter the points he makes (and there are), there's a lot here to get one thinking, and maybe change the way we make our food choices.
The only flaws I would mention are that it could've benefited from better editing to tighten it up, especially the foraging section. One chapter includes at least twenty quotes from a philosopher of hunting. Enough! And there is a place or two that the same points are repeated.
All in all an important book.
76 of 97 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A few interesting ideas, padded out to book length,
I loved Pollan's "Botany of Desire," which is full of interesting ideas and new perspective. So I had high hopes for "Omnivore's Dilemma". I was terribly disappointed. I found this book often dull, repetitive, and thinly and superficially researched. Pollan aims to present a perspective on industrial vs. small scale agriculture and food production, mostly from a very personal and subjective point of view. I think that by and large Pollan finds his own reactions and impressions much more interesting than the scientific or economic foundations of the topic that he is studying. Others may enjoy this, but I don't. The technical facts take a back seat -- and many of the facts he mentions are actually only half true at best. Large sections of the book, especially toward the latter half, are dedicated entirely to Pollan's own navel-gazing as he considers his own cooking, whether he should become a vegetarian, the smell of a dead animal, etc. It just gets dull. Pollan also pads out the chapters by repeating certain ideas and phrases over and over: how many times do we have to read that the free ranging chickens laid "tasty eggs"? This is one of those books that would be twice as good if it were only half as long. Meanwhile he barely touches some of the key issues -- What are the implications of an industrial food chain that is essentially a machine for converting fossil fuel energy into food calories? Can a traditional midwestern corn farmer actually convert to an "organic" or artisanal model of food production? That's what I'd like to know, and I certainly didn't learn it from this book.
91 of 117 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More Frankenscience,
This review is from: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Paperback)
I am going to write a review here that I am sure that will get pummeled and give me nothing but nasty comments and a billion negative votes. So let me say some good things first. Pollan is a gifted writer, is engaging and entertaining to read. The book and it's premises though are a sure recipe for global disaster. Pollan is more even-handed and fair than most of the books trumpeting the perils of industrial farming, but let me please try to explain why these arguments are dangerously flawed. I will try and give and intelligent and considered response and those of you who must blast back at me, I only ask that your comments are equally considered.
Many people are scared of industrial farming, the inputs that are used, and the genetic engineering that is advancing farm science. Most of these fears are based upon "frankenscience" designed delilberately to be scary. Scary and sensational sells books, magazines, and newsprint. The "organic" label has been profitable to the tune of billions of dollars and will continue to be so. There is so much momentum in the press about the dangers of industrial farming and too much money to be made for it to stop. On the other hand industrial farming is not going to stop either. We have to eat.
In our society the best way to control how people think is to control the questions posed. When industrial farming is discussed it is presumed to be bad because it is "industrial" and there are chemicals involved. Ergo we have the slew of reporting biased against industrial farming. All of these books may even be right and everything they maintain may prove to be true. I doubt it, but even if so we have a problem that is ignored by the media when experts pontificate about agricultural issues. The question isn't whether industrial farming is good or bad. The real question is, "there are over 6 billion people on the planet, and the population will grow to be over 9 billion. How are we going to feed everybody?"
The prescription of this book, more local farming and more organic food, is simply a recipe for billions of deaths through starvation. Many people hate it when facts don't fit their preconceived notions or agendas. In fact, I never seen a political party that doesn't suffer from this flaw. My response is neither political nor do I have an agenda. Although you may not listen to what I have to say, I feel compelled to try and point out the simple holes in the logic of this book. You may not thank me for it, but at least I will have tried. This book is irrational because it refuses to face the real question of how to feed everyone. A rationalist is a person who plays the hand of cards they are dealt, not the hand of cards they wish they had. They solutions offered in this book amount to playing the cards we wish to have rather than the ones we do have.
Here are the cards. Land can either be good farmland, tolerable farmland, ranch land, or non-arable. All of the good farmland and tolerable farmland in the world is already being farmed. There are no reserves of land in this world that would make good farmland. You can try to farm ranch ground, or poor farm ground, and you can pursue slash and burn farming in rainforests, but the problem is that the land will only be productive for a few years. After that it is uneconomical to farm it. By that I mean you will put more calories into the farming than you can withdraw. Moreover this land then is subject to erosion and other environmental problems. The simple math is this: there are roughly one billion arable hectares in the world and there are just over 6 billion people. Those are the cards we hold. Can we feed everyone? Yes, for now.
Here are the problems with local production and organic food: local production is fabulous when you can do it, but many people do not live where food is produced. Think of New York City. Obviously NYC cannot grow all the food it needs for its population. They need to import food. This is not a new problem. Ancient Rome was entirely dependent upon food produced in Egypt and other provinces. When people choose to live where the food isn't, there is a cost associated with getting the food to those people. There always has been. However, you also can't wish those people to move to where the food is, because their housing would take up all the farmground. So local markets theoretically work great for certain groups, but it is simply not rational to suggest local production as a solution to world food shortages. There is also a reason why the world looks like it does with densely populated non-agricultural areas and thinly populated agricultural ones. People can't live on the good farmground. Plants have to live there. Therefore, when you really think about it, suggesting local production as a solution is just a preconceived bias that in practical application would cause a lot of people to starve. Sure, some people get to live near the food, and it would be more efficient if they would eat the food produced right next to them rather than food that is shipped halfway round the world. Getting people to do so would make the system slightly more efficient, but it is not going to be the solution. It would be a bandaid on a sucking chest wound. Moreover, it wouldn't work anyway....people don't want it. They like eating bananas from central America, grapes from Chile, lamb from New Zealand, cashews from Vietnam, and cornflakes from Michigan. A diet of only local foods would be very bland compared to the diet to which we have become accustomed. So, you can wish for local production all you want, but those pesky humans are going to mess you up every time. They will pay lots of good money to have tasty foods imported from far distant places.
Local production means local foods only. You won't get others to agree to that after they've tasted the goodies of the rest of the world. I sincererly doubt that most readers of this book are actually willing to eat only on what can be organically grown within 20 miles of their residence. If they are not, then they are just chanting, "do as I say, not as I do", which is the fault I find with this book and the author.
Suggesting organic farming as a solution though is frightening. Let's do that simple math again.....one billion hectares and six billion people. Right now, with incredible amounts of oil-based fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, chemical inputs, and, whoa, even scarier, genetic technology, we are just managing to basically keep those six billion people fed. Organic farming does without those inputs....and produces about 1/4 the equivalent yield. If the world switched to organic farming then 4.5 bilion people would have to starve to death. Even if you are willing to become the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world, people are not just going to sit there and slowly starve to death for you. No, they will fight for food for themselves and their children. When you do the math you will realize that organic farming is much more harmful than the "bad meat" chant (I'll get to that in a second). Organic farming simply equates into less food output. Less food = less people. Westerners, in a shocking display of hypocrisy, can extoll the virtues of organic farming, decry the use of chemical inputs, suggest local production, etc., while they are chewing on their bananas, dining in expensive restaurants, wearing their leather shoes, burning their oil in their luxury SUV. But we can't have it both ways. To the third world we appear as insufferable, arrogant, self-righteous, and astoundingly stupid hypocrites. Imagine yourself in a west African village explaining organic food and local market approaches. I've been there....they've done it that way for thousands of years. They'd think you were retarded for suggesting back-breaking labor and risk of starvation to have organic food. They have organic food, and they would love to swap places with you. After trying to grow your own food there for a year, organically, you'd want out too. Those villagers would love the chance to use modern inputs to increase their yields, and a trip to a US grocery store would seem like something out of a fairy tale to them. Before espousing organic farming and local production imagine yourself as the person who had to do the labor, moreover you life depends upon your success, and, additionally, say goodbye to anything more intersting than gruel to eat. This book offers answers that sound great in theory, but in real practice you'd find absolutely horrifying.
There are real problems with industrial agriculture, primarily its dependency on oil, but I'd prefer to see the author looking at the real problems and trying to craft solutions that can actually be made to work. Solutions that the other 6 billion people on the planet can live with and you can live with too.
Complaining about the $75 billion that the feds plug into American agriculture is not very well thought out. I'm not going to defend a single thing the USDA does.....but I am going to defend the reason why it started and why it has to stay. Despite being a capitalist country, we can't not have a safety net in regards to food. If we don't produce enough food in this country then people will DIE. Get it? It's a concept called food security because food is the most important thing in a society. If you don't believe that, just don't eat for two weeks. You can go without gasoline for two weeks, you can sleep outside if you have too, you can live without your DVDs....but try living without food. Since it is the one necessary item before all others, for thousands of years nations have had food security policies and practices. The people in power have to keep the people fed. If they don't, they won't be in power long. The United States is no different and never has been. We have been so blessed with good farmland and good practices that it has been 80 years since we had food shortages. Starvation is not a place any person or any country wants to be. Ergo, governments spend money on agriculture. Yes, sometimes they do stupid things, but food security can't be left to chance. The US Govt is not going to stop, nor should it, implementing policies for our food security. They may not get it right, there may be incompetence and corruption, but it is up to us to do something about it when they get it wrong. We should be deeply thankful that they don't leave food security to the "Free Market".
Another problem overlooked in this book is one of labor. Before the green revolution about 90% of the world population had to work in agriculture. In America today less than 1% of our population has to do so. That frees up the other 99 of us to build cars and houses, write novels, practice medicine, run utilities, make movies and clothing....to do everything that brings us to the level of technology, wealth, and health we enjoy today. Without industrial farming we can't have those 99 people creating and sustaining our level of technology.
One last point. The whole "meat is bad because it takes eight pounds of grain to make one pound of meat". That's just embarassingly wrong, pure proganda, and thankfully Mr. Pollan doesn't fall into this particular trap. What that argument is really saying is that midwestern style feedlots that feed corn to cows are inefficient and oh my gosh! People could eat that corn instead! Then no one would have to starve. I've heard this argument many times before, from many likable people. The problem is that it's not true; moreover it is obviously not true if you think about it. It's an argument that serves the agenda of people who don't like people eating meat. It's an effectively convincing lie apparently, but it is misinformation serving to score political points. I don't care if people eat meat or not, but I do care when deliberate misinformation is used to create a public opinion. Well let me point out the glaringly obvious. Most of the livestock in this world, well over 98%, will never see a feedlot and they will never get to eat anything a person would eat. Hunh? What? By using a small fact, that to fatten a cow in a Kansas feedlot can take eight pounds of corn to creat one pound of gain, and shouting that to the world, you're left to assume that all meat takes eight pounds of grain to create. Not so. No, most of the cows, goats, sheep, chicken, and other beasties in the world that are slated to be our dinners eat things like grass, insects and weeds. Things we can't eat. In fact, I could make a perfectly good argument that based upon on the meat produced for consumption in the world, against all the grain used to create that meat, that it only take 2 ounces of grain to make one pound of meat! Therefore by not eating meat we're going to cause everyone to starve. As Mark Twain once said, "there are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics". Watch out for the lies and the damn liles, but never believe a statistic. Not even mine. Also be careful of believing what others tell you without thinking it through. If you think about it yourself you will realize that most livestock in the world forage for their food. They're not eating anything a human would eat. The "meat is inefficient" argument is only true if applied to an American feedlot and even then it is still specious (a damn lie) for two reasons. Here is the first reason: even those 2% of animals who get to spend a few weeks eating corn and millet in a Kansas feedlot, so that they wind up tasting better to us, still aren't eating human food. Pollan points out they are eating corn that humans can't eat and wouldn't want to eat. Therefore it is a damn lie that what the feedlot cow ate can have been equivalent to 8 times more food for the starving whomever. Now, the anti-meat group's rejoinder is going to be, "yeah, but the land that grows that non-human corn could have been used to grow real human food." Not really. Anti-meat people, because of their bias, tend not to really undrestand much about agriculture as a science. Yes, some of that land used to produce corn to feed cows could be put into human food production; and I guarantee once the need for it is there it will be put into human food production. Farmers make a lot more money on human food than they do on animal feed (humans have more disposable income than cows). So again, the implication of the anti-meat crowd is that we lost 8 times the calories we could have had....not true. If we needed those calories then humans would have gotten them and the pro-meat crowd would have to eat veal rather than steak. Humans are going to get fed before cows do. But the real problem with the "that land could have grown human food" argument is that it is wrong. Those people, because they don't know even the basics about agriculture, conveniently leave out the need for a little thing called crop rotation. It means you don't keep planting the exact same crop over and over again in the same place. You have to rotate crops. Some of our major crops, such as millet, sorghum, and corn, are grown for reasons other than direct human consumption. That turns out to be handy because it means we can rotate crops and keep yields up year after year. Let me try to explain. I could plant wheat five times in a row, but my yields will fall if I do. If I rotate millet into the cycle then maybe I only grow wheat three years and millet one year and sunflower seeds one year during a five year cycle. However, I'll have as much wheat out of my farm as you will have on yours if you tried growing wheat five times in a row. So it turns out the the millet I feed to my dairy or beef cows didn't really cost the world any extra food, did it? Indeed, now I get to eat milk, cheese and ice cream, maybe even a steak once in a while....
Most arguments about food production can be picked apart like I tried to do in the above. The arguments are created to support someone's idea of how they think things should be. They have an agenda, and then they seek facts to support their agenda. I don't have an agenda, but I do see that we have problems. An increasing world population, decreasing genetic variety, soil getting tired, erosion, lack of technology, experience, and inputs for Africa and much of the rest of the third world, depleting phospate reserves, depleting oil reserves, and inconstant weather are all going to be challenges as we go forward. I'd love to see a well-reasoned and rationally sound blueprint that, politics and agendas aside, considers how we are really going to feed 6 billion people now, 9 billion people in 30 years, and how to do it consistently for the next thousand years. This is the real question, and billions of people are relying on us to provide real solutions, ones that everyone can live with. This book unfortunately doesn't do that.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do you know what you're eating?,
I found this book an extremely fascinating read and quite an eyeopener. TOD is a very thought provoking discourse on where our food actually comes from and the so-called "military industrial complex". He has a very easy writing style and has obviously done his research. It is of great credit to his writing that he doesn't stand on a soapbox criticizing people for their choices. The book is peppered with very interesting facts and science explained in a contextual and simplified manner for just about anyone.
Along the way one learns facts about the pervasiveness of corn in every facet of our diet. Aspects of an environmentally destructive monoculture and animal cruelty going into our McNuggets call attention to points we rarely think of or at worst turn a blind eye to. A large chunk of this book was quite a page turner (more on this later). A very topical discussion in this book was the entire concept of "organic" food and how this too has become more of a label. How are our dietary choices today ravaging the earth and our economic and environmental foundations ?
One of my biggest concerns with this book are its rather obvious shortcomings in terms of what one can actually do about the problems he talks about. He does not outline any "truly practical" solutions to the industrial agricultural machine? After all there are over 6 billion people on this planet and is "sustainable" agriculture of the boutique farm variety the answer?
The section on Polyface farms was terribly fascinating but then again the basic contradiction in this entire section is on how practical such a farm is. One need only look a few miles in any direction of an urban metropolis to find acres of farmland now occupied by McMansions and housing developments. All of this is pushing farmers further and further out (or out of business in some cases). Isnt one creating an equal or higher environmental cost by driving to a farm 100-200 miles away? The problem is that the book is filled with a large number of such realistic issues or dilemmas such as this that Pollan doesn't address.
Towards the end, while some may disagree with me, I found his description of foraging for food and cooking his meal rather boring. Admittedly he had a rational argument for including this section on building a complete meal from scratch much like our ancestors were wont to do, but at every point I could only think of the impracticality of such an existence (or perhaps that was his point). In any event it was rather tiresome.
But overall, I can only thank Mr.Pollan for this excellent book that made me think about some of the choices I as an individual could start to make.
The first thing I found myself doing after starting to read this book was to take a closer look at food labels.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You think the oil companies are evil! A must read for anyone that eats.,
This all started last year with a trip to Illinois for a funeral. My wife's family are big farmers in Illinois and all they plant is corn. Corn everywhere right up to the edge of the roads, no ditch just corn. At first I thought this was impressive, America at its best....super production feeding the world. But then you start to get a little nagging in the back of your mind, "Man corn is everywhere...where does it all go?"
Micahael Pollen answers this question with several disturbing explainations:
1. You drink it by the boat load with every 20oz soda.
2. You eat it by the truck load with EVERYTHING.
This book will definetly screw you up...you will begin reading labels and see the corn EVERY WHERE!
As a farm kid, hunter and parent, this book uncovers many answers to America's problems with food. A must read for anyone that eats!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you love food, you will love this book,
Mr. Pollan has written an excellent book on food and, as other reviewers have noted, makes you think about where your food came from and how it was raised. This was a well-written, interesting read though not a short read.
If you are a vegetarian, you should probably read the first review from VegNews and leave it at that. Mr. Pollan and I both like meat so I got over that part pretty quickly. But having been to Dodge City, KS in the summer time, feedlots are incredibly disgusting places.
Mr. Pollan's writeup of major corn Agibusiness makes you want te read the labels on everything -- who the hell knew that farm raised salmon is fed corn?? -- and probably buy stock in Archer Daniels Midland.
I think the theme that I really liked the best in the book was the slow food 'community' vice fast food eat in the car theme. Both meals he cooks are with family and friends and they sound like wonderful meals with fascinating company. The MacDonalds meal is just like the thousands that I have probably consumed - in a car at 66 miles an hour.
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The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Paperback - August 28, 2007)