I finished this book last night and am itching to talk about it with someone.
Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma is a searing criticism of the modern American food chain. The criticism is based around a thorough analysis of how our food chain works, and a history of how it got to be the way it is. It then offers alternatives and a good deal of proverbial food for thought along the way. The underlying argument is that the current industrial food chain–that is, enormous farms using copious chemicals to grow obscene amounts of corn, primarily, and then force-feeding that corn to animals not made to digest it (cows) in factory farms–is dangerous to both the environment and the nation’s health. The corn craze has fed into (ha) the obesity epidemic in this country, as most processed foods are made with crazy amounts of corn by-products, like high fructose corn syrup.
What’s interesting is that Pollan also explores one of the alternatives to the production system of US agriculture–what he calls Big Organic. While purchasing organic foods certainly improves the environment on one hand by limiting use of chemical fertilizers, it’s also a problem when I, for example, out on the east coast, purchase organic stuff made in CA and trucked all the way out here. The amount of petroleum used in this process (petroleum, incidentally, is also used in mass quantities to produce, harvest, and feed corn to everyone) is also problematic.
In the long run, then, what he encourages (if only implicitly) is a return to a sustainable food chain, one in which people buy locally from preferably organic suppliers, and one which values both the care and quality of meat sources but allowing cows and chickens and pigs and so forth to live on the land, rather in factory farms, treating them humanely and cleanly. He notes that the rise in food poisoning in America, for example, has a lot to do with the wretched conditions of these factory farms; he also points to the potential problem of people ingesting lots of antibiotics via their meat. Antibiotics are needed because of the close conditions of factory farming; when cows are allowed to be cows, instead, such antibiotics are unnecessary.
Anyway, it’s a very thought-provoking book, and certainly enough to motivate me to continue changing my eating patterns, something I’ve been working on, anyway. But where I live, organic/free range stuff tends to be very pricey, which is a potential block to anyone looking to create change. However, as Pollan points out, in the scheme of things, this might not be a huge price to pay.