It may seem odd, I suppose, that one of my classics books is really a 400 page treatise on food. But at our house, food is sacred stuff. This was my second time through this book and I thought I’d share it, in case anyone out there has yet to read it. So, here it is – The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Book Review.
At the time of my first reading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was just barely coming into an awareness of the connection between humans, their food and the earth it comes from. This is odd to me, considering my great love of gardening even from a very young age. Food and health as a general topic were, at that point in my thinking, very far removed from the meager offerings I pulled out of my garden, though.
That first reading of this “natural history of four meals”, coupled with an in depth study of my religion’s law of health, was the beginning of my journey into a more holistic approach to healthy living. It was around the time of this first reading that I started to embrace one of the missions to which I have been called in the service of my family. Namely seeing to their health and well being. So, it is appropriate that I would come around to Dilemma once again as I continue to pursue all the information I can about healthy eating and healthy living.
The Questions That Matter
Michael Pollan, the author, set himself quite a hefty task as the premise of his book. He wanted to answer the question of what’s for dinner and to
“go back to the very beginning, to follow the food chains that sustain us, all the way from earth to the plate… [for] we are not only what we eat, but how we eat, too.”
His premise is that as omnivore’s we have a very real dilemma in our modern age about what is correct for us to eat – whether we are confused by fad diets, the food pyramid or the difference between conventionally and organically grown food. He points out that while some of us continue to buy blindly at the grocery store or the fast food restaurant, there are a growing number of us omnivores (and vegetarians and vegans and fruitarians) who are on the hunt for
“food that is good to eat as well as good to think.”
So, Pollan decided to follow that path of the industrial food chain, the “pastoral” food chain and the “personal” food chain.
The Food Chain Search
The first thing he personally investigated was the life cycle of conventionally grown, industrial corn as it went from field to soda pop to USDA corn fed beef. He then ventured onto a farm by the name of Polyface, run by Joel Salatin and his family, which describes itself thusly:
“Polyface, Inc. is a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach.”
Lastly, Pollan immersed himself in the activities of the hunter/gatherer omnivore by learning to hunt wild boar and gather mushrooms. This is an interesting thing to think about. He took the time to really learn these skills by partnering with mentors and actively pursuing these activities. Sounds familiar?
Have you ever done anything like this? Of course you have! Each time you try a recipe you’ve never tried before or grow a vegetable you’ve never grown; each time you learn to forage some new plant you are dipping your toes in this food chain search and finding your place within it. You become part of the story.
Put your Mushrooms Where Your Mouth Is
The compelling thing about Pollan’s approach and the book itself are the great lengths he’s willing to go to in order to embrace each learning opportunity. I respect the completely honest way he is willing to analyze the information he gleans. He’s perfectly prepared to look at himself, his family, his society and his ethics in order to come to conclusions that he and his food can live with peaceably. He’s completely willing to put his money where his mouth is, as the saying goes.
I don’t always agree with his premises or his conclusions (usually a philosophical perspective difference stemming from an obvious difference in religious beliefs), but I so appreciate his candor. That, above anything else, is what makes this book a classic for me.
When I read Omnivore’s Dilemma, I am right there with Michael, willing to ask myself those same questions and reason it out. I want to make sure that I really know what I believe, and what I’m willing to do about it.
This book has truly spoken to me about the need to find the food that is good to eat and good to think.
Because I found this book of such value, I added it to the suggested resources section of my own book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. With over 400 pages of homesteading information presented on four different levels of experience, there’s truly something in this book for everyone – include the foodies. And the gardeners. And the everybody-else-rs. Click below to learn more.