Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

By Michael Pollan

Omnivore's Dilemma sheds light on the industrial food complex, especially on America's heavy reliance on corn, and what brought that about. I learned an amazing amount reading this book. It is really a must read for everyone, if you're living in this society. Everyone ought to know where there food is coming from, and what those unintelligible words on nutrition labels mean.

Pollan tries to find out exactly what happens in the industrial food chain, the industrial organic one, a food chain that comes from a farm that describes itself as 'beyond organic', and one where he hunts and gathers himself. He clearly learned a lot in the process, and you will too. You should also know that 'organic', while having a positive impact on the environment nevertheless, is a much vaguer term than you think - it doesn't mean what you think it means. A fact that the book doesn't mention is that WalMart is the largest seller of organic produce in the country. You will learn that industrial organic is only a narrow shade different from pure industrial - and just as problematic but in different ways.

The description of Polyface farm and its fully sustainable ecosystem are awesome. You can see that it is possible for the animals we raise for food to get to that point through fairly natural lives (aka the chickens can do what chickens are meant to do). You also discover that this method is not just beneficial from an animal welfare perspective, but also from an environmental and health standpoint.

The chapter on the ethics of meat eating was interesting to me, because it added a few points to the discussion that I have not heard before. Pollan brings up the fact that domestication was never a one-sided deal - it has always been a way to create a symbiotic relationship. Initially it was in the cow's interest (cow as a species) to be raised by humans who could protect it from predators and the like. Of course, our industrial food system has negated the benefit for the cows and now it's purely exploitative. And that made me remember - plants were domesticated too, thanks to the adaptability and cleverness (stretching it?) of the plants which benefit greatly from human cultivation. Now I realize that animal rights activists won't agree with this, but I think it is a perspective that is not often addressed. Certainly today, the way we use animals for the food industry only benefits us to the maximum amount, and so perhaps this argument is no longer even relevant. However, if you look at Polyface, you see that that kind of beneficial relationship can still exist.

Basically, you must read this. I could go on more, but mostly I'm just going to put it in my research paper.

Grade: A+

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