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The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Hardcover – April 11, 2006
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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.
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.
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This is a very interesting book - well thought out and investigated. I am not certain that I want to consume meat again as Pollan tells the reader how these feeder lot cows, pigs and chickens actually live and die. Really, not my idea of humane. Just as interesting is his investigation of corn. It is amazing how corn is in absolutely everything from high-fructose corn syrup to fish food; gasoline to paint; fish to .... well, you get the idea. While more and more acreage is devoted to mono-crops, chiefly corn, we are the "benefactors" of everything that is corn related. Feed lot cattle are fed corn to fatten them up even though it makes them terribly sick and reduces the number of valuable nutrients available to grass fed cows. Multiply that by lamb, chicken, goat, salmon, tilapia, shrimp and you get an idea of why you are eating corn at every meal whether you know it or not. Compound this with the fact that 3 companies control the corn product from seed to pesticide to fertilizer and this monoculture is there to get you in one way or another. Corn that can be sprayed with pesticides that kill everything except the corn - bugs, weeds..... Makes you wonder what you are eating. Anyhow, Pollan has done a wonderful job investigating the food chain and its effect on the environment be it our internal flora or life on earth.
For me, this was a truly eye-opening and fascinating book. I felt like I learned a lot of things I should have already known and now have much more insight into. Also, his whole approach to food just felt so wholesome as to make me want to move our own lifestyle in that direction, particularly making more effort to buy locally produced food items, even if they cost more. Also, to pay more attention to where the foods we buy come from and think about the carbon footprint of, for example, blueberries flown here by jet from Central or South America. (Why not buy them in summer as preserves or jelly and just not eat them fresh out of season?). So, all in all most highly recommended to be read by everyone!