Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma


I’ve just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. A friend loaned this book to me when she found out I had read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, et al.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a beautifully written book in which Pollan follows the food chains of the various ways in which we can feed ourselves. He starts with the industry of food which is probably where the majority of us who live in the U.S. get the majority of our food. Industrial food is, according to Pollan’s journey, corn based. This is the chapter that I found most thought-provoking in terms of how I eat, what I eat, and where I buy what I eat. It made me rethink the eating of meat, not for moral reasons but for health reasons.

The author’s meal at the end of the industrial food chain was a fast-food meal eaten in a moving car, something that seemed rather fitting.

Pollan’s second journey takes him to the world of what he calls pastoral food (grass based, or grass-fed), some of the alternatives to industrial food that are becoming more popular. This seems a more reasonable way of eating to me, given that some of the animals we regularly eat were made (evolved) to eat grass. It’s more involved than industrial food, and certainly not as cheap, but it does appear to be a healthier alternative.

In the pastoral section, the author also looks at organic foods and what he refers to as Big Organic. Now that organic food has become so popular the food industry is looking for ways to industrialize it in order to cash in on the market (which in turn also makes organics more affordable and shippable).

And for his third adventure in eating, Pollan becomes a hunter-gatherer, foraging his food from the forest (tree-based food). He ends with what he calls The Perfect Meal, a meal made from the foods he hunted (a wild pig) and gathered or grew on his own.

I found the book to be very interesting, although by the time I got to Part III of the book (Personal/The Forest) I was beginning to get a little irritated with some aspects of it. I felt as though the author was repeating himself with too many recaps from the previous sections. However, he redeemed himself (in my opinion) in the chapter about gathering fungi. I found it fascinating. I’d also like to learn more about collecting wild yeasts to use in the making and baking of bread, something Pollan does as part of The Perfect Meal.

I learned quite a few things along the way in my adventure in reading this book. I recommend it, especially to those who are interested in the food chain, and how the food you eat was grown and brought to your table.

Websites of interest: