Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review - The Omnivore's Dilemma

First off - this is a great book. It's one of those non-fiction reads that is so compelling you feel like you're in the midst of a novel. With some of the food facts contained in between the covers, you'd wish it was a novel!

I've been working towards a mostly local/organic diet for the last couple of years, so it was great to hear some stories about just why the current processed food phenomenon is so sucky. Michael Pollan frames the omnivore's dilemma as the question, "Is this safe to eat?" This is a question that human's have been asking for thousands of years. The author breaks down the analysis of this question into four sections.

First off is a discussion about where we get our regular everyday cheap food from. He tracks corn from the fields of Iowa all the way to our fast food cheeseburgers with a very interesting tale about the politics of the corn industry and how we've really been subsidizing junk food more than anything else with our nation's farm policy.

Next up Pollan takes a look at the industrial organic farms that churn out large monocultures of your favorite organic greens or soybeans or [insert ecologically damaging but concious clearing food here]. I try not to get onto my soapbox too much about food. I firmly believe you should eat what you want to eat. I do wish that it was easier for us to determine exactly what it is we are eating though. The organic culture leads us to believe we're putting healthier foods into our body and that that it is being grown in a way that will keep the planet spinning a little longer. After reading this portion of the book, I'm not sure we're quite there yet.

The third section of the book discusses what may be described as a biodynamic farm. This is a farm that uses very few inputs to generate all of their outputs. The story of Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms is nothing short of astonishing. This is farming and business done the way it should be. The mind blowing processes that Salatin uses to create this well-oiled farm machine make this book well worth the price of admission!

The last section of the book goes through Pollan's process of growing, hunting and forraging for an entire dinner party meal. It's a tall order, but a fascinating tale of how things used to be.

I highly recommend giving this a read. If it's a toss up between reading this, or In Defense of Food (Pollan's second book in the 'change the way you eat' series), I would go with Omnivore's Dilemna. You may need to be ready to change the way you eat though!