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Why everyone needs to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Natural History of Four Meals.

October 20, 2010

Now, I try not to be preachy preachy when it comes my perception of what is right when it comes to food and politics, but this is a book that every food eating American needs to read. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma Michael Pollan explores a simple but unbelievably complex question- What should we have for dinner?

One theme that Pollan explores is that of the industrial revolution of the food chain, which is particularly interesting to me. From the time prior to the revolution, around the closing years of WWII, we relied on the sun to produce our calories, you know; sun makes grass, animals eat grass, we eat animals, or sun makes vegetables, we eat vegetables, etc, etc, etc.Since the revolution, most of our calories now come from fossil fuels – oil makes the energy used to make processed food, oil ships the corn across the country to feed the animals we eat, so on and so forth. This opens up a new set of challenges and has completely changed what we eat, how we think about food and who profits from it. When someone hears of a ‘revolution’ it is usually something that benefits and brings about progress to the people effected – this ‘revolution’ only brought about obesity, huge increases in heart disease and cancer, environmental damages that outweigh the pollution given off by the transportation systems of the entire world, thousands and thousands of newly unemployed farmers, butchers and food producers and fat, fat wallets for a very small group of people –  the Monsantos, and Tysons of the world.

Pollan explores how we got to where we are now in the food system. A system where people don’t seem to question the fact that a McDonald’s hamburger, that doesn’t decompose because of how many preservatives are pumped into the thing, is real food? How no one seems to question why the meat we eat is making thousands of people sick due to e coli poisoning and killing dozens more each year, a result of a new fossil fuel friendly diet of corn instead of grass? How we got to a place where we demand strawberries in December and bananas that must travel thousands of miles to end up in our cornflakes? How we got to a food system that had put almost all family farmers out of business or has made them a slave to the mega-companies that buy their goods?

I consider myself a pretty well informed person, but the fact that I couldn’t answer most of the above questions a few years ago boggles my mind. I eat 3 times a day- if I live to be 95, like my grandmother is now, I will have eaten 104,025 meals – why the hell did I have no idea where any of that food came from?

Yes,  the book will make you think twice about going through the drive-thru. Yes, the book will make you think twice about that grocery trip to Wal-Mart. And, yes, the book might even make you think twice about biting into that hamburger (although Pollan is not a vegetarian, and does not advocate for it). However, I think the added psychological strain about something that you will end up doing over 100,000  times in your life – is well worth it. Don’t you?

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