Well, apparently I’m not the only one who pauses to think about our food in such a light. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan essentially investigates the various ways in which Americans produce, process, and consume food. Naturally, he starts out with a bang and dives right into a dissection of the vast corporate agri-business that supplies the majority of our food, with the discussion centered on the exploits of the humble (or not so humble) corn plant. Through the “miracle” of modern agricultural and food science, the corn plant has become the foundation of our processed food system in which a grain of corn is broken down into basic molecules and synthetically reassembled into much of the “food” available at the local supermarket. Take a look at anything with a nutrition label and a list of ingredients – much of the stuff that you can’t pronounce is probably manufactured from corn. I won’t even get into his descriptions of industrial meat production, but I’ve seen the feedlots in
and can vouch for his tale. Why so much corn, you might ask? Pollan hints, no, jabs at various government policies and market conditions that drive farmers closer to the brink of financial extinction to supply large corporate grain processors with ever cheaper raw materials. The unwritten message is, “Gee, I bet these processing corporations can afford to purchase some pretty influential congressmen on Capitol H Kansas ill”. The written message is that the industrial agricultural system, with the backing of the government, endeavors to transform petroleum into food at the expense of fair economy, the environment, and our health. Do heart disease, obesity, and diabetes ring a bell? They're all linked to industrial food. Pollan takes the stance not that of the typical tree-hugging enviro-conspiracy theorist, but of a horrified, intelligent observer looking into the system as an outsider. Skeptical? Read it. Your library probably has a copy on the shelf right now. United States
Pollan ventures next into the burgeoning "organic foods" market, with a focus on the type of organic goods that you might buy at Whole Foods. The results of his investigations are disappointing but not surprising. As you might suspect, the organic food industry is, for the most part, just that - an industry. Yes, lettuce may be grown without petroleum-based fertilizers and chickens may not be fed antibiotics, but the system st
ill suffers from monocultured fields, crowded animal feed lots, and intercontinental transportation of foods (carbon footprint, anyone?). Pollan cites the example of an “organic TV dinner” as the ultimate hypocrisy of the organic food movement. There is redemption, though, in his exploration of the “beyond organic” food movement. In the most enlightening chapters, Pollan visits a farm where one visionary farmer studies and applies the rhythms of nature to his cattle and chicken operation. The farm, by Pollan’s description, is really such a beautiful ecosystem that I won’t attempt to paraphrase – just read the book already, eh? Virginia
The last chapter focuses of Pollan’s efforts to serve a meal entirely of his own creation, and by that I mean he hunts the boar, picks the mushrooms, grows the lettuce - you get the picture. Delicious yet time consuming and, he admits, just as impractical for modern life as the industrial system is deleterious to the environment. The compromise, he argues, should be somewhere in between.