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The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Paperback – August 28, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
[Signature]Reviewed by Pamela KaufmanPollan (The Botany of Desire) examines what he calls "our national eating disorder" (the Atkins craze, the precipitous rise in obesity) in this remarkably clearheaded book. It's a fascinating journey up and down the food chain, one that might change the way you read the label on a frozen dinner, dig into a steak or decide whether to buy organic eggs. You'll certainly never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again.Pollan approaches his mission not as an activist but as a naturalist: "The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world." All food, he points out, originates with plants, animals and fungi. "[E]ven the deathless Twinkie is constructed out of... well, precisely what I don't know offhand, but ultimately some sort of formerly living creature, i.e., a species. We haven't yet begun to synthesize our foods from petroleum, at least not directly."Pollan's narrative strategy is simple: he traces four meals back to their ur-species. He starts with a McDonald's lunch, which he and his family gobble up in their car. Surprise: the origin of this meal is a cornfield in Iowa. Corn feeds the steer that turns into the burgers, becomes the oil that cooks the fries and the syrup that sweetens the shakes and the sodas, and makes up 13 of the 38 ingredients (yikes) in the Chicken McNuggets.Indeed, one of the many eye-openers in the book is the prevalence of corn in the American diet; of the 45,000 items in a supermarket, more than a quarter contain corn. Pollan meditates on the freakishly protean nature of the corn plant and looks at how the food industry has exploited it, to the detriment of everyone from farmers to fat-and-getting-fatter Americans. Besides Stephen King, few other writers have made a corn field seem so sinister.Later, Pollan prepares a dinner with items from Whole Foods, investigating the flaws in the world of "big organic"; cooks a meal with ingredients from a small, utopian Virginia farm; and assembles a feast from things he's foraged and hunted.This may sound earnest, but Pollan isn't preachy: he's too thoughtful a writer, and too dogged a researcher, to let ideology take over. He's also funny and adventurous. He bounces around on an old International Harvester tractor, gets down on his belly to examine a pasture from a cow's-eye view, shoots a wild pig and otherwise throws himself into the making of his meals. I'm not convinced I'd want to go hunting with Pollan, but I'm sure I'd enjoy having dinner with him. Just as long as we could eat at a table, not in a Toyota. (Apr.)Pamela Kaufman is executive editor at Food & Wine magazine.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In The Botany of Desire (2001), about how people and plants coevolve, Michael Pollan teased greater issues from speciously small phenomena. The Omnivore's Dilemma exhibits this same gift; a Chicken McNugget, for example, illustrates our consumption of corn and, in turn, agribusiness's oil dependency. In a journey that takes us from an "organic" California chicken farm to Vermont, Pollan asks basic questions about the moral and ecological consequences of our food. Critics agree it's a wake-up call and, written in clear, informative prose, also entertaining. Most found Pollan's quest for his foraged meal the highlight, though the Los Angeles Times faulted Pollan's hypocritical method of "living off the land." Many also voiced a desire for a more concrete vision for the future. But if the book doesn't outline a diet plan, it's nonetheless a loud, convincing call for change.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top customer reviews
Pollan is an excellent writer, sometimes too descriptive and gives too much information but all in all it's a good read.
Since I am usually bored stiff by economics, I recognized Pollan as a profoundly readable author when, in the first chapter, he managed to make the economics of corn production interesting to me. I was absolutely fascinated by the chapter on grass farming, and the debate centering on organics empowered me as a consumer.
The book is extensively researched and referenced and, although Pollan does have an unabashed agenda, he does portray different points of view. (You actually feel sorry for Corn Belt farmers, even as you abhor factory farming practices). Educators in various areas - as I mentioned, economics, biology, agriculture, or sociology - may want to make individual chapters required reading. Warning: Pollan can be flowery and long-winded, and make many apparent digressions from the point before winding up where he wants to go. This style appeals to me, but younger readers can find the ratio of effort to return prohibitive.
I bought "In Defense of Food" based on my liking for this book, and found that I didn't get much out of it that wasn't stated or implied in, "The Omnivore's Dilemma." However, I am still planning to explore more of Pollan's work.
What I like about Pollan is that he's not a raging fanatic. He has leanings and, yes, they're quite clear, but he doesn't beat you over the head. Vegan? That's a bit extreme. Carnivore? You might want to rethink that. Except for the extremes, you, I, and Pollan are somewhere on the omnivore curve. Our dilemma is examining our place on that curve and deciding if that's really where we want to be.