Saturday, April 4, 2009

Michael Pollan’s hit book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, took the organic, locavore, foodie world by storm in 2006. It was at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and purportedly changed the lives of several people (one person told me she went vegetarian after reading it), however, I have only recently been aware of its existence and importance.

Michael Pollan describes the US’s production and consumption of food, and how it is, in a word, revolting. The root of all evil, he says, is corn. That’s right, CORN. Because, according to him, everything is made with corn. Obvious things, like popcorn and high fructose corn syrup, but also almost every preservative, fruit and vegetables that come in contact with corn pesticides or are grown in the same soil as corn was, and – most shockingly – meat, fish, and poultry. This is really the worst – fish are force-fed corn! How is that possible? How could someone say that such a practice is healthy for the fish and healthy for the people who will then eat the fish? In the book, Pollan describes how livestock is fed with a mixture of cornmeal, dried up bones, and indiscriminate pieces of discarded slaughtered animals that may well be a mother or a baby cow. Chicken are fed cornmeal and ground-up feathers and chicken bones. Essentially, these animals are kept alive in the worst way possible just until they grow to a nice size for slaughtering and selling. Disgusting.

America’s dependence on corn and corn products is a direct result of a government-led farming initiative in the 1970s that monopolized on the cheap and hardy corn crop. Pollan analyzes the production of four meals throughout the course of the book, showing how the foods come from the corn field to the candle-lit dinner table. The first meal falls under the “industrial” category of food production – it is McDonald’s. It is basically poison, as well as being made almost entirely of corn. That burger is made of corn because the cow it comes from was stuffed to death with a product that none of her four stomachs was naturally made to process. The next meal falls under the “big organic” category – food that is purportedly organically grown. The problem here is that since the organic movement has grown bigger and bigger, more farmers and food producers have taken on the practices of big industrial agriculture, therefore big organic food is not much better than industrially produced food. The meal that Pollan analyzes was cooked at home with food from Whole Foods. The next meal that Pollan makes and analyzes is on a small organic scale – from a local, sustainable farm that uses very few artificial substances or practices. This is a good meal, but it is economically unfeasible for the country because of the government’s subsidization of corn and industrial agriculture. The final meal that Pollan prepares is a “hunter and gatherer” meal: he only uses foods that he has found and gathered, including wild feral pigs, berries, mushrooms, and various greens. This is obviously the least feasible option, because in order to live like this Pollan has to cut himself off from his family and his work, and go around foraging for truffles.

The overall message of this book is very bleak – the only thing to do is to move away from America and avoid any American-grown meat, fish, and poultry. Luckily, I was also told about another book that is much more helpful – What to Eat, by Marion Nestle. It’ll fix you after reading Pollan, trust me.

1 comment:

  1. My take home message from the book was less bleak, actually. More along the lines of: be deliberate about the food you eat. In other words, ask questions, get to know your growers, support responsible production and consumption of your food. And I am hopeful that some of the moves our current administration is making will counteract some of the historically imbalanced farm subsidies. Maybe the newly planted organic gardens on the white house lawn and outside of ag dept offices are token gestures, but they are a start....