Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Omnivore's Dilemma

If I could name a most fascinating book that I’ve read this year, I believe it would be Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It is not a book about parenting – but since one big piece in the role we play as mothers involves how we feed our family (at least for those of us who don’t have a husband chef who makes the majority of the meals), it’s a great read for moms.

Pollan explores the history of four meals – beginning with a McDonald’s lunch he and his family eat while driving down the Interstate, progressing to a “big” organic meal, then a meal produced on a grass farm and ending with a meal made from ingredients grown, hunted and harvested by Pollan himself. Pollan, a journalism professor at UC-Berkeley has a way of making this anthropology of food just plain riveting and he does his research thoroughly and intimately (going so far as to purchase a steer that might have become his McDonald’s classic cheese burger and following it from the cattle ranch where it spent its first six months to the feed yard where it would be overstuffed with corn and antibiotics and then slaughtered). I finished the book and immediately read the sequel “In Defense of Food,” which is less literary and more practical and which makes the argument that we need to return to real foods and avoid “food-like products” (if you follow his standard of five or fewer ingredients in real food and start doing some label reading you’ll likely quickly realize that you’re not eating much real food, as defined by Michael Pollan).

And now both books live in me, as I stroll the grocery aisles – avoiding the highly processed foods and high-fructose corn syrups, and hydrogenated oils with a bit more commitment than I did in the past (although I’m no purist and still make my share of “food-like” purchases). I’m also dreaming of a bigger garden for next spring. And thinking more about what it is that the chicken or turkey we’re eating were themselves fed. (Pollan demonstrates that we are not only what we eat – we’re what the animals we eat eat – if that makes any sense.)

But the best thing is that the book doesn’t feel like a lecture – it’s just good storytelling that happens to be nonfiction.

And no, Pollan will not try to convince you to become a full-time hunter-gatherer, although Rob flirted with going wild hog hunting for the first time this fall after reading that section of the book. There’s no way to do justice to this book in a few paragraphs, but it’s definitely worth a read.


Dana said...

I am reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" right now and I totally agree!! I love it.

The first section made my jaw drop. I thought the second section was beautiful. It almost made me want to run out and buy a piece of land to farm. ;) And now I am reading through the third section. "In Defense of Food" is next.

If you're interested in watching an interview with Michael Pollan, Canada's George Stroumboulopoulos interviewed him on The Hour

Annie Addington said...

Thanks, Dana! I'll look for the interview.

shannon said...

This book also has changed my role as a Mom in a very practical, relateable way. I just feel a little silly to not have examined what I chose to feed my family before.

I just trusted that since everybody else eats it, it's okay. I'm realizing not everybody else eats it and all the food-like products (made with all the high fructose corn syrup and weird chemical stuff) just came on the market in the 80s so no thorough studies have been done to know what it's doing to us. I'm realizing there's a reason not to eat the beef who are injected with hormones and antibiotics daily and that there are other options like local farms.

And, like Dana and you mentioned, I am excited to finally grow something in this patch we tilled 2years ago and haven't done anything with. I learned a lot about the growing process for that purpose, too. I found the book very educational and inspirational!