The Omnivore’s Dilemma

by Michael Pollan

From the back cover: “Today, buffeted by one food fad after another, America is suffering from what can only be described as a national eating disorder. Will it be fast food tonight, or something organic? Or perhaps something we grew ourselves? The question of what to have for dinner has confronted us since man discovered fire. But as Michael Pollan explain in this revolutionary book, how we answer it now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, may determine our survival as a species. Packed with profound surprises, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is changing the way Americans think about the politics, perils, and pleasures of eating.”

While I have read from other sources about the horrors of feedlot and the problems of the processed food in our society, this book still provided a lot of new (to me) information, and the later parts about industrial organics and hunting/gathering are eye-openers for me. As I read the book, I quoted passages (mostly scary stats and some amusing lines) to my husband in a not-so-subtle way to sway him from meat eating.

I did not know, for example, that corn and grain feeding is so bad for the cows themselves, and that it ends up providing worse meat for us, endangering our own health. Animals get their omega-3 from grass; corn and such does not contain omega-3. In fact, the anti-inflammatory, blood flowing omega-3 is found in a plant’s leaves, and the flammatory, blood clotting omega-6 in seeds. Free-range chicken eggs therefore are rich in omega-3, as the chicken feed on grass. It’s popular now to eat salmon for its omega-3 fatty acids, but truth is that they come from the planktons the fish eat. When we try to breed fish that grow on grain, we eventually breed salmon that is deficient in omega-3 but full of the omega-6. It is believed the higher consumption of omega-6 vs omega-3 is the culprit of the many modern day diseases such as cardiac, diabetes and obesity.

Moreover, for the cows, eating corn makes their stomach acidic, and a hotbed for E coli. A research has found that by switching a cow’s diet from corn to grass or hay for a few days prior to slaughter will alkalize the pH of the stomach and thus reducing the E. coli population by as much as 80%. Unfortunately, this solution is considered impractical by the cattle industry and thus the USDA.

The author then goes on to explore the organic industry. He found that as the organic industry goes mainstream, large scale production means that some of the organic farms may not be much different from the conventional ones. The cattle may not live any better a life than its feedlot brethen, except for the feed it consume, organic rather than pesticide infested – an improvement that likely won’t affect its well-being or happiness much. And getting organic salad greens trucked all the way from California is not so green after all.

Pollan’s experience on Polyface farm is really interesting. Though it is imaginable that such substaniable, earth friendly but labor intensive (and brain intensive) farming method is unlikely to be more mainstream.

The part on hunter/gatherer is an interesting read as well, though I certainly would not fire a rifle for food, and gathering mushroom doesn’t sound fun to a city girl like me.

I doubt there is any person who would read this book and not re-think the food choices he or she makes. One may go local, go organic, or simply just eat fewer processed food or fast food… but it would be lovely if every person who’s read this book make a more conscious choice in what it goes into one’s mouth. This reminds me of a comment I read somewhere, that nowadays people put too little thought in what goes into our stomach, and into our mind. This book is indeed healthful on both counts.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 3:32 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a seriously fantastic review!

  2. Greetings! I’ve been following your site for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the good job!

  3. I was excited to find this great site. I wanted to thank you for your time just for this wonderful read!!
    I definitely appreciated every bit of it and I have
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    your blog.

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