Belated Book Review: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

February 10, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

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The soup dumpling was balanced cautiously on my spoon, the twisted top bitten off and, as I stared into the murky, steamy depths of broth, I was struck by the gray lumpy brain-like matter in the middle. Struck, not because it was unfamiliar—soup dumplings at Grand Sichuan are almost monthly staples of our diet—but because, suddenly, after reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” that lump of pork conjured forth images of tortured pigs, in crowded pens, their tails cut off to a stump so that other pigs won’t chew on them. Was this the meat of a factory pig? Would I, by biting in, be complicit in its tortured death? I drowned the dumpling, and my quandary, in gingered soy sauce and bit in quickly.

Eat fast and don’t think. I gobbled it up, like a good American.

* * * * *

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is old news. It made so much news, in fact, when it came out last year that I felt like I’d read the book without having read the book. My hardcover copy was positioned prominently enough on my bookshelf—top tier, in fact—that it would’ve been a reasonable assumption, had you seen it, that I’d not only read it, but understood it thoroughly, allowing its stories and ideas to seep into my cranium, changing my outlook forever.

I often brought it up in conversation. “Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma?” I’d ask, without revealing that I hadn’t read it myself.

“Of course,” the other conversationalist would say and for all I knew they were lying too.

It’s just a book with a premise so clear, so clean, it’s very easy to feel like you’ve read it without having read it. What is that premise? I’d be surprised if you didn’t know, but just in case: Michael Pollan, the book’s author, eats four meals—a fast food meal (McDonald’s), an organic meal from Whole Foods, a farmer’s market meal from Virginia’s Polyface farm and, finally, a meal for which he hunts the meat and gathers the mushrooms himself—and explores everything there is to explore about the provenance of our food, why it’s important, how it’s changed and what that means for us, our children and the world.

That’s a heavy conceit and its heaviness was what wore me out when I first attempted it. I got stuck in the science of corn, around pg. 40, and never picked it back up. “Ok,” I thought to myself, “I get it. Corn’s bad, industrialization is bad, I should eat natural foods I get at the farmer’s market. Problem solved.”

And for the next year, even though I never got past page 40, I felt as though I’d read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Its lessons were simple, its conclusions obvious, and anything I didn’t extract from the first 40 pages or the flap copy, I’d garnered from all the articles I’d read about it.

Was this the first book in human history that you could read without actually reading? If only “War and Peace” were so simple.

* * * * *

Of course, now that I’ve read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I want to warp myself back to that moment when I put the book down and, like someone in a V-8 commercial, whack the old me on the head.

“You idiot,” I’d say, “you have no idea what you’re giving up. This book gets good—it gets really good—and, as a matter of fact, it’s going to change your life.”

There are not many books I’d say this about, in fact I can’t think of any others that’d fit this category, but “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is essential reading. Absolutely essential, especially for Americans. To live in America, to eat the food we do on a regular basis, to live in ignorance about where that food comes from, what it means for our health and longevity, not to mention our humanity, is to be guilty of a great crime. Michael Pollan says as much when he asks: “Is it possible that history will someday judge us as harshly as it judges the Germans who went about their lives in the shadow of Treblinka?”

You may lightheartedly joke about walking into a McDonald’s and grabbing a cheeseburger, as I’ve certainly done to rattle my extreme foodie friends, but now that I’ve read this book I know that doing so is an act of such willful, almost hostile, ignorance that I’m not sure I’ll ever muster the tenacity to do so again.

Why?

Where to begin. I could talk about corn, how our government subsidizes the corn industry at the expense of the land and, most disturbingly, our health; how scientists at places like McDonald’s conspire to turn corn—which is outrageously cheap and plentiful—into millions of different products, from Chicken McNuggets to the stabilizer in the Newman’s Own dressing you put on your “healthy” salad, not to mention the zillions of chemicals derived from corn—chemicals you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever read the side of a cereal box.

I could talk about that, but I’d rather talk about the animals—the tortured, diseased animals whose miserable lives are rendered into that mealy, gray patty, a flavorless disc that all the ketchup and mustard in the world can’t obfuscate. That patty might seem innocuous—a quick source of protein, not to mention a comforting taste of childhood (at least my childhood: I had my 11th birthday party at a McDonald’s)—but it’s anything but. That meat comes from a cow that’s fed an unnatural diet of corn (cheap, cheap corn—as the book makes very clear), causing the cow—an animal meant, both biologically and evolutionarily, to eat grass—to break out in nameless diseases, their livers frequently infected, while crammed mercilessly into lots, standing in piles of their own manure.

That’s a McDonald’s hamburger.

* * * * *

However gruesome that scene, this book did not make me want to give up meat. What it did, in fact, was help me understand that eating meat is a natural function of being human, and that eating meat is not only conscionable, but ecologically important. (For the full argument, of course, read the book).

Instead, this book forced me to consider the provenance of the meat I consume. Which brings us back to Grand Sichuan, where the pork in the soup dumpling sent me into a moral quandary. Knowing what I know now, about where most of the cheap meat you find at grocery stores and fast food restaurants comes from, how can I blindly consume meat with an unknown provenance?

I’m not sure I can or that I will. On Friday, I went with Craig and my good friend Lauren to The Little Owl for dinner. Famous for their pork chop, I was suggesting she and Craig order it—I’ve had it before—while I settled upon a lamb T-bone. Having gone on a pre-dinner tirade about “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and the provenance of meat, Craig felt compelled to ask the server where all this meat was coming from.

And, lo and behold, there was an answer. “Our pork chops come from,” and she named the farm, “where they’re fed a diet of acorns and honey.” The lamb was “grass-fed, free-range, organic lamb from Colorado.”

Wow. All we had to do was ask and suddenly the plate of food we were served had a story, a compelling narrative that not only alleviated my tortured conscience, but actually—magically or not—made the food taste better.

And all thanks to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

* * * * *

There’s so much more I want to tell you about this book, but if I tell you any more you may do what I did: feel like you’ve read it without reading it. So, I’ll simply reiterate: this is an essential book, a book that’ll change your life and help make the world a better place. You may not agree with every part (I didn’t completely share his hostility towards government regulation of meat production, for example) but you will be woken up—shocked awake, really—and you’ll never again sleep your way through a frozen dinner, a Happy Meal, or an Applebee’s fajita the way we’ve been doing as a country since the industrialization of food.

If nothing else, keep that word—“industrialization”—in mind. The food industry is a business and like any business, it wants your money. It wants to trade your health, your family’s health, the welfare of the land and the country for the convenience of a cheap, easy dinner. It’s confusing, for those of us reliant on—if not downright addicted to—this way of life to transition into a more sustainable way of eating and living. That’s why Michael Pollan is, in many ways, our savior: a man with a flashlight and a compass, there to show us out of the woods.

Read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and wake up to a new way of thinking, a new way of eating. Wake up to the reality of the food you put on your plate every night, the food you put on your children’s plates. Wake up to the cost of this food, the suffering, the disease, the toil it takes to make your dinner cheap and easy.

Wake up.

* * * * *

Ok, I just read this to Craig and he thought the ending was self-righteous and way over the top. He also questions the practicality of eating humanely 100% of the time for the rest of my life: “What if you’re at a dinner party and you don’t know where the meat came from? Would you refuse it?”

I see his point and I also anticipate the inevitable money issue, an issue I’ve often stated myself: what if you can’t afford to eat this way? What if you’re a working single mom with four kids and a 30-minute window to make dinner? (A scenario that might account for the revolting fact, stated in the book, that 1 out of 3 kids in America eat fast food every day). Here’s how Michael Pollan addresses the money question:

“As a society, we Americans spend only a fraction of our disposable income feeding ourselves–about a tenth, down from a fifth in the 1950s. Americans today spend less on food, as a percentage of disposable income, than any other industrialized nation, and probably less than any people in the history of the world. This suggests that there are many of us who could afford to spend more on food if we chose to. After all, it isn’t only the elite who in recent years have found an extra fifty or one hundred dollars each month to spend on cell phones (now owned by more than half the U.S. population, children included) or television, which close to 90 percent of all U.S. households now pay for. Another formerly free good that more than half of us happily pay for today is water. So is the unwillingness to pay more for food really a matter of affordability or priority?” (243)

It’s a compelling argument, though one that I’m sure will arouse equally compelling responses. I’ll simply say that avoiding processed foods, eating foods that occur naturally and meat that’s raised humanely, are admirable ideals no matter your income bracket. How we incorporate those ideals into our lifestyles is the question of the moment–and a question that will persist until an answer is no longer optional.

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Categories: Food Book Reviews

  • http://golikewater.blogspot.com Steven

    The argument that working parents, etc. don’t have time or money to eat well is total crap. People just don’t know how to cook. I cook for myself and my roommate, almost every meal we eat, from scratch. I’m a full-time student. I don’t spend more than 30 minutes a day preparing meals, usually less than that. (On the weekends, I might throw some stuff in the slow-cooker to make soup or a stew or tomato sauce to freeze for later.)

    Our produce comes from a local CSA farm. It’s cheaper and better than the imported produce in the grocery stores. I use grains and dried beans that, of course, have to cook for a while, but all you have to do is throw them in a pot and walk away. Even a harried single mother can cook a big batch of chick peas or black beans on a Saturday while she’s paying the bills or whatever.

    I’ve been cooking all my life, so I know there are things I can do faster than most people. Lots of people are intimidated by cooking, but that’s just because they never do it. The statistics for how much time people (especially kids) spend watching TV expose the absurdity of claiming there’s no time to cook. Parents should spend more time in the kitchen cooking and enlist their kids to help.

  • lghez

    Dear Adam,

    Thank you for this post. I am a single widowed mother who has been raising two children on my own for ten years (they were six and ten when my late husband died).

    My main source of food for our table is from a community sustainable agriculture program. I know that 100% (or almost) of my retail food dollar goes to the farmer, versus 15% when I buy produce at the grocery store. This is for 8 types of vegetable, herb,fruit, grain or nut each week. I plan our meals around this organic and freshly harvested source of nutrition. Sometimes the CSA can make available to us (kind of like a buying club) pasture-raised or grass-fed eggs and meat. This is all local.

    We eat meat less often and are healthier for that. Believe me, if I can pay $4.50 a pound for pastured chicken, when we wish to eat it, versus $1.69 in the supermarket, others can. What most people don’t realize is that with our consumer dollars we don’t pay for the full cost this food places on the environment and our tax bill. We end up paying the full price in other ways, including in the health care needed by our society due to the consumption of large amounts of less than optimal meat.

    I can’t let my children inherit a world that is polluted by excess fertilizers for which we have paid through our tax dollars, and I can’t let them eat food produced in confined animal feedlot operations.

    There are so many aspects of life in the future I can’t control: Bird flu; our country’s standing and reputation as a world leader, etc.

    I can control how and where I spend my food dollar, and I do so with a long view.

    Sincerely,

    lghez

  • http://www.shelbsandcheese.com Shelby

    What a great review. I’ve read about the book but haven’t really felt the urge to pick it up and read it myself until now, as I had thought it was just going to be entirely self-righteous – I suppose I shared your skepticism, so thanks for surveying the lay of the land and giving us all the green light.

  • http://alithinks.com Alison

    Yep, this book is definitely a must-read. Thanks for the review; it’s just enough to make those of us who’ve read it say “Yeah!” (okay, that was cheesy, sorry) without revealing too much.

    And if you haven’t read Omnivore’s Dilemma yet, what are you waiting for? AG is right. It’s a really important book.

  • http://www.thenewcook.com Andy2

    Just to play devil’s advocate, certainly unhealthy eating can lead to disease and death for humans. But at the same time, has it been proven that normal, non-organic food is actually harmful to us? People are living longer than they ever have on this food, and probably dying for other reasons. So sure, organic and what not might be a little bit healthier, but does it really make that much of a difference? I’m not actually sure what the answer to this is, but I’m just a little skeptical of everyone jumping to the organic bandwagon like non-organic will kill you in five years. Does the book address at all how much of a difference it makes?

  • DaveG

    Andy2.

    No need to play the devil’s advocate. Pollan doesn’t prescribe or push that “organic” is preferred or even necessarily better. The dilemma is that most of us don’t know or even want to know where our food actually comes from. And if we did it’s very difficult to do anything about it. This book opens your eyes in a way that will change the way you view everything you eat but recognizes that most of us will still get most of our food from one of the mega-grocery store chains. And that when we do buy “organic” we’re still usually just buying the label and not food that’s coming from your grandmothers garden.

    I agree that this is an important book. Not the easiest to read because there is so much researched content. But the research is so compelling and frightening that you’ll talk about it for months with everyone and you’ll think about it every time you go shopping.

    But what do I know. I practically live on boxed cereal and pbj sandwiches.

  • http://byflutter.com flutter

    Adam thank you so much for this. It is a kick in the ass that I needed today.

  • Misty

    My husband and I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma on audio tape. It blew my mind that my husband actually found the whole thing extremely interesting and has now started down the path of championing whole and local foods. I would NEVER have thought he would be interested in these causes. Now that we both understand the issues, we are working so much more efficiently to change our eating habits.

  • http://woundedchef.blogspot.com Julia – The Wounded Chef

    Bravo to AG for showcasing the message of Omnivore’s Dilemna. It’s true – it can change your life. After reading it, I even started to feel guilty eating food from Whole Foods. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s not industrial. Locally produced food is fresher, better for the environment, and better for you. And I think it’s fun to shop at farmers markets – I can never be sure of what I’ll find, which has enhanced the creativity and seasonality of my cooking.

    Andy2, I recently read Nina Planck’s book “Real Food: What to Eat and Why” which addresses your question of whether the typical American diet of processed foods and industrial meat is bad for you. Yes, people are living longer, but heart disease and cancer have become commonplace. I don’t remember the book’s claims exactly, but here’s the gist: Studies have shown that pastured meat has more nutrients that protect us from cancer and heart disease than industrial meat; organic vegetables have more cancer-fighting chemicals than their industrial counterparts; vegetable oils and soybean oils that are found in so many processed foods are generally processed under high heats that damage nutrients in the oil. In addition, industrial foods lead us to have too much Omega-6 and too little Omega-3, which is not good for us either. So while it’s yet to be proven that it’s bad for you to not eat organic, it certainly can’t hurt to eat organic/free range/grass fed/pastured/etc.

  • sam

    Err. my copy is still sitting untouched on the top shelf. I have actually read War and Peace though.

  • whimsy2

    I think the Omnivore’s Dilemma is just about the most important book to be written in the last 50 years. I read it last year. One change it made in MY life: I shop at a market where they label where the food comes from. I live in Oregon, so I’ll consider foods from Oregon, California or Washington state “local”. Well, it’s sort of local. I no longer buy foods from Mexico or South America or New Zealand or anyplace else except those 3 states. The more local, the better, as far as I’m concerned. And if everyone shopped like this we could really change things.

  • http://josephbayot.blogspot.com Joseph Bayot

    This is a great review, Adam. What I like about this blog (and by blog I mean you, I guess haha) is that it answers the questions that I was just about to ask and includes the remarks I was just about to make, whether it is the decision to continue eating meat, the way the story behind the ingredients makes a difference in the pleasure I get from a meal, or the cost of eating organically/sustainably/pasture-raised/(you get it).

    My big gripe with Omnivore’s Dilemma is that it raises a lot of questions and poses a lot of arguments, but when I finished reading it, I didn’t exactly know what to do with myself. I had to learn through other resources how I could go about eating with more awareness. Maybe Michael Pollan addresses this in his other book, so I can’t knock him. Overall, he does a great job of passing on this information, enough to guilt/scare me into better eating habits.

    If I’m interpreting the tone of the post right, I’m looking forward to more posts from you concerning CSAs, relationships with growers, restaurants like Blue Hill, etc. especially since I can check out the things you talk about, being right across the river in Jersey City.

  • http://www.zenkimchi.com/FoodJournal ZenKimchi

    FREAKY COINCIDENCE!!!

    I just finished reading Omnivore’s Dilemma last night.

  • http://www.inmybook.com Robin

    I got stuck at about the same place in the book where you put it down, and all in all, I agree that his message is primarily about how the American agro-industrial complex has imprisoned us in our chain food stores. Damn!

    Somewhere in the middle of the book came the eureka moment…his emphasis was emphatically supporting the eat local movement over and above the organic movement.

  • Michelle

    I seriously doubt the majority of this blog’s readership have experienced first hand the deprivations that contribute to this imagined single mother’s food choices. YES laziness and lack of education and/or cooking skills is involved but that’s kind of the tip of the iceberg.

    It is poor thinking that leads a person to blame the poor for the proliferation of fast food values. As complicated as the issue of “to eat meat or not” is understanding the range of choices people even feel are available to them.

    How much does Horizon milk cost compared to Dean at your grocer? The price in terms of dollars is not comparable, though the cost to health is another story. But I am priveledged to be able to choose, unlike my family in previous incarnations.

  • http://longshadows.wordpress.com Lucy

    I’m glad you wrote about this; this book keeps popping in and out of my consciousness and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while. I just recently read The Ethical Gourmet by Jay Weinstein, which sounds pretty similar to Pollan’s book though I’ll bet Pollan goes more in depth.

    Reading the Ethical Gourmet pretty much sold me on eating more organically and naturally. But I want to point out that not everyone falls into that category of people spending most of their extra income on things other than food. My current job is as an AmeriCorps VISTA, a government service program aimed at eradicating poverty. I make $368 every two weeks. I pay $435 a month for rent. My last utility bill was $99.99. I make a $90 payment on a student loan each month. I average about $30 a week in gas as the site I work at is 30 miles from my apartment. If you’re doing the math, I’m starting to go into negative numbers income-wise.

    I almost never buy processed and/or packaged foods. Almost everything I eat is prepared by me. And I want to buy organic and natural and I try to do so as often as I can, but for some of us, it really just isn’t feasible all the time. And I don’t think that’s “total crap.”

  • http://blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet/ Lindsey

    Adam, I really appreciate your admission that it took a long time to finally plow through this book. I’ve been meaning to read it myself for some time and know it is ridiculous that in my line of work, I have not read it. But, like you, I have felt bombarded by its message from so many angles that I wasn’t sure I needed to read it.

    I’m going to put in an order for it today.

    But the message to me is not that we have to change our entire diet overnight. It is that we begin to think about it and make small changes here and there, if that’s all we can do. It means that I’ve started buying more produce and meats from the farmer’s market or the local co-op, that I rely a lot more on the venison my family members give me (I am not killing a deer– at least not just yet) and I’m planning to start my first little vegetable garden and revitalize my fresh herb supply this Spring.

    I figure that if everybody at least begins to make small changes like those, it’ll make a huge difference.

  • Patrick

    I want to read this even more now.

  • http://themodernapron.blogspot.com TD

    I just read this book a couple of months ago and it really spurred me to make changes–we subscribed to a CSA for the summer, and I’ve been more concious about removing all that corn-based crap from my diet. If I can’t identify the ingredients in it as coming from a specific plant or animal, I won’t eat it. I make my own yogurt, bread, salad dressing, and mayonnaise. We’re planting a garden this summer, and we’ve started composting.

    As for the question about going to a dinner party and not knowing the source of the meat, etc., I think Pollan would say, just do the best you can. That’s all any of us can do. Really try, of course–hit the farmer’s market, ask at restaurants, but our society is not designed for people who are concerned about their food and where it comes from. Until that shift really occurs, all we can do is the best we can.

  • http://baixagastronomia.blogspot.com Mar

    Adam, I had a similar experience when I first heard Carlo Petrini (founder of the Slow Food movement) speak. I expected him to be snobbish, exquisite and condescending, and much to my surprise, he was funny, revolutionary and controversial. He was introducing his last book which is called (at least here in Spain) “Good, clean and fair”. These three words express what food should really be about. Good, in terms of taste, as opposed to righteous bland organic soylent green; clean, as real, local, and not chemical ladden; and most importantly, fair, as the other two characteristics are nothing is this food cannot be consumed but by an elite or can only be achieved by exploiting labour.

    Hearing Petrini speak DID change my life, even if it’s been a slow and gradual change. Up until I read your review I thought I could pass without reading Pollan, but you’ve made me change my mind. I think the problems in the food system Pollan describes are probably shared by the majority of the Western world, and reading another book on how to face them is never a bad idea.

  • http://kitchensurfing.blogspot.com Advaitin

    That’s precisely why I put the book down …the tedious description of corn! You’ve now guilted me into picking it up again.

    For folks that want to follow up with related reading, I would suggested the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle book by Barbara Kingsolver and Plenty by Alisa Smith and JB Mackinnon.

    The two books extend the Pollan argument and explore more humane, eco-sensitive, local and seasonally appropriate ways of eating and cooking.

  • http://baixagastronomia.blogspot.com Mar

    By the way, there’s a talk by Petrini, with English interpretation, in Youtube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECzTRG7tjV0

    Also, the English title of his book is “Slow food nation”.

  • http://baixagastronomia.blogspot.com Mar

    Damn, my first comment is awaiting moderation and the second one has already been posted… Just in case, I was recommending Carlo Petrini’s (the Slow Food founder) ideas as further reading.

  • Sam

    Bravo. I now know what to spend the rest of my Tattered Cover bookstore gift certificate on.

    Thank you.

  • Jessica

    I get the whole shop local thing….belive me, I do. I would love to be able to get local produce. But, I live in Central Florida. I have looked for local produce. I can’t live on Strawberries and citrus. Help!

  • Jessica

    I get the whole shop local thing….belive me, I do. I would love to be able to get local produce. But, I live in Central Florida. I have looked for local produce. I can’t live on Strawberries and citrus. Help!

  • http://lydiaskinner.com Lydia

    Excellent article. Thank you for spreading the awareness of this issue that’s so important. My friend in London and I were just emailing about Hugh F-W’s efforts on the same subject, and his answer to someone claiming they can’t afford organic meat for their kids everyday was, “Don’t eat meat everyday.” How is that not obvious to people? I live in Canada, and I aim to be an “eating out vegetarian”, especially when I visit the States, unless the provenance of the meat is known, as you said.

    There’s some controversy right not over Tesco (UK grocery chain) cutting their prices for whole regular chickens to 2 (British) pounds each. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7230959.stm

    I recommend “The 100 Mile Diet” for people who think they can’t eat locally, and “Not on the Label” by Felicity Lawrence, a book that’s probably pretty similar to this one, but British. Thank you, Adam!

  • Lydia

    I missed that bit about War and Peace. I read it last summer, it was awesome! I know it seems intimidating, but don’t fear the Tolstoy.

  • Erin

    After reading Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” over the weekend (which I highly recommend), I purchased “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” over lunch…PRIOR to reading your post! How timely. “In Defense of Food” changed the way I look at food, and I’m happy to hear that TOD is just as good. As others have said, I’m looking forward to reading more posts in a similar vein!

  • Jeremy Osborne

    My wife turned me onto your blog, and after reading this post, I’m glad she did. It’s this sort of commentary and willingness to speak up that makes me proud to be an American.

  • Grubbjunkie

    Adam, great post, you really hit the nail on the head with your comments about how the book should change lives. I have given the book as a gift to many people and each say it had a big impact. What I like best is that Pollan freely admits that it is hard to know what is right (and to choose what is right) with all of the wrong and misleading information out there. To me this is the true dilemma, one the knowledgeable omnivore faces every day. In recognizing that the choices are difficult, Pollan stands apart from more preachy food writers who try to shame you into eating differently.

  • Marti

    I still want to read it, but out of curiosity, is there any mention to kosher meat producers? A lot of what goes into certified kashrut has to do with the animals’ health and well-being as well as the method of kill, salting, etc. I guess I’ll have to pick it up and find out.

  • http://aloshaskitchen.blogspot.com melissa

    that was a fantastic and amazing post adam. I’m adding this to my amazon list right now.

    and though I see craig’s point, I look at those last paragraphs as passionate. and I understand why. it’s a tough issue.

    thank you very much for posting about this!

  • http://www.missbhavens.com missbhavens

    I, too, dropped the book twice during the corn rant. I get it. I get it about corn. I agree about the corn. QUIT IT WITH THE DAMN CORN!

    After a week I restarted reading it, and I’m so glad I did.

    My honey and I are currently moving from Astoria to the Catskills. It’s a major shopping hassle to get to Whole Foods or the Greenmarket for either organic or local fruits and veggies. Even on my middle class income I cannot bring myself to buy the better meats at Whole Foods. Those prices alone make me want to go back to being a vegetarian (although WF veggie prices are nuts, too).

    Upstate NY is a wonderland of cheap local fruits and veggies…in the Summer. In the wintertime we’re stuck with the Price Chopper megamart. Nothing local AND high prices. Ditto for local meat raised with care that we like to call “happy meat”. Its plentiful during the warmer months where local farmers sell their Happy Meat at farm stands and open markets; I LOVE being able to talk to real live people about the Happy Meat from their well-treated and happy animals. But in February I’m still a slave to the Chopper with its cheap and enticing massive packages of Unhappy Meat that beg to be purchased and frozen for later.

    I’m wracked with guilt at the giant pile of Unhappy pork and beef and chicken in my freezer. I feel part of a giant creepy machine. I’ll eat it, though, and I’ll try not to think about it while doing so.

    Reading TOD has utterly changed how I think about food, but it has yet to utterly change my lifestyle due to reasons of practicality.

    I think with some more effort on my part, though, I can eventually change my unhappy meat ways.

    I’m looking forward to it.

  • http://www.missbhavens.com missbhavens

    I, too, dropped the book twice during the corn rant. I get it. I get it about corn. I agree about the corn. QUIT IT WITH THE DAMN CORN!

    After a week I restarted reading it, and I’m so glad I did.

    My honey and I are currently moving from Astoria to the Catskills. It’s a major shopping hassle to get to Whole Foods or the Greenmarket for either organic or local fruits and veggies. Even on my middle class income I cannot bring myself to buy the better meats at Whole Foods. Those prices alone make me want to go back to being a vegetarian (although WF veggie prices are nuts, too).

    Upstate NY is a wonderland of cheap local fruits and veggies…in the Summer. In the wintertime we’re stuck with the Price Chopper megamart. Nothing local AND high prices. Ditto for local meat raised with care that we like to call “happy meat”. Its plentiful during the warmer months where local farmers sell their Happy Meat at farm stands and open markets; I LOVE being able to talk to real live people about the Happy Meat from their well-treated and happy animals. But in February I’m still a slave to the Chopper with its cheap and enticing massive packages of Unhappy Meat that beg to be purchased and frozen for later.

    I’m wracked with guilt at the giant pile of Unhappy pork and beef and chicken in my freezer. I feel part of a giant creepy machine. I’ll eat it, though, and I’ll try not to think about it while doing so.

    Reading TOD has utterly changed how I think about food, but it has yet to utterly change my lifestyle due to reasons of practicality.

    I think with some more effort on my part, though, I can eventually change my unhappy meat ways.

    I’m looking forward to it.

  • Jordan

    Being a free market libertarian (please wait until I am done before you boo and jeer)I cringe at the idea of anyone stepping into correct this with banning anything but I have to think that if people really knew what was going on in this industry they would start to demand humanely raised and slaughtered meat. What people push for, the free market provides.

    Craig brings up a great point that those with a lower income will have a hard time swallowing this. He’s right and so is the commenter that said it can be done, it’s choices in cooking and preparation.

    I want so badly for this movement to take hold and catch on. I admit I am having a hard time with it but hopefully we can all support eachother in this massive change. The more chatting, comments, posts on where to eat, who to buy from, what the farming “machine” does will help push this forward.

    Ok, I am rambling. I am just trying to get the point in that we all need to fight like hell to get people to understand what is going on and most will start to make right choices once they are faced with the facts.

    By the way…everyone give to Certified Humane…they need our support!

    http://www.certifiedhumane.com/default.html

  • http://iatethat.wordpress.com Mike

    Two quick comments:

    missbehavens, I notice you say you have a freezer full of Unhappy Meat (GREAT phrase, BTW – I fully intend to steal it and will almost always forget to give you credit). Well, because of Michael Pollan, I have a not so full freezer (now) of Happy Meat I bought this fall. A whole pig and 25 chickens raised the way God intended and a side of grass-fed, grass-finished beef from local farms in New Hampshire. Yes, the summer is a bounty, but don’t forget to freeze (and can!) that bounty this summer so next winter – no more sad faces! Cheer up! You have found the path and though you can’t be on it now, summer is coming!

    I would say everyone who has read The Omnivore’s Dilemma should read Peter Singer and James Mason’s The Way We Eat, too. It’s a very good think-starter on, well, the way we eat. Let me say, I am not a vegan, like Singer & Mason (obviously, from my comment above). Heck, I’m a right-wing Republican! But, this book is really good about addressing where our food comes from, is local better, is organic better? I didn’t agree with the book all that much and found the writing sometimes childish, but it did get me thinking more about what we eat, where it comes from, etc.

  • http://www.izzyeats.blogspot.com izzy’s mama

    In the midst of reading O. D. and encountering the very same corn issues. That being said, I have been aware of many of the points he touches upon. I organize a CSA from my home and I definitely go out of my way to buy local and organic. My main struggle occurs in restaurants. Will you really maintain the willpower to stay away from many asian establishments or just alter what you eat there? What about small places like Moustache? Some great treasures serve questionable meats to be sure. Do I not introduce my child to a plethora of wonderful ethnic foods because of the provenance of the meat? What is the solution? Surely we can’t dine at Little Owl every time.

  • http://www.kingcorn.net/ zeep

    Wow, another book for the list – right on… I’m going to get it right after this post – just curious, has anyone seen the movie King Corn?

    http://www.kingcorn.net/

    Looks like a good companion piece for TOD.

    When the Revolution is finally televised (or blogged or whatnot), it’s going to involve everything that we consider a part of our “daily lives.” My guess is that it will start with food. We are what we eat.

    Keep on keeping on AG,

    zeep

  • teddyb

    It is important to note here that industrialized food is so cheap because it is subsidized by taxpayers. Our government could with a little creativity stop rewarding large corporte farms and assist smaller, more humane organic ones.

  • elarael

    If you’re freezing meat anyway, why not just buy extra and freeze the summertime produce and happy meats for the winter? That’s what used to happen. Everything is always possible.

  • Rich

    censored. *sigh*

  • Matthew

    Just a response to Craig’s questioning of “the practicality of eating humanely 100% of the time for the rest of my life.” If we only did the right thing when it is easy, convenient, and practical, then I think we would all be in a bad place as a society. I believe we become honorable, ethical, and even moral human beings when we do the right thing in spite of a perceived inconvenience or difficulty. Everyone must decide for themselves how much they are willing to participate in and support, even indirectly, the ills outlined in this book. If the price is an awkward moment at a dinner party for a clean conscience, I’ll take the peace of mind.

  • alix

    Thanks for writing this, adam! When I filled out your survey recently, I said that the one thing that i felt was missing from your site was any discussion of sustainability issues. I agree with you that Pollan’s book is one of the most important books I’ve read in recent memory, possibly my entire lifetime. People may think they eat healthy, but simply have no clue what’s being done to our food.

    One amazing outcome for me, about the book, is that while I have been a non-meater for almost 20 years (I don’t say vegetarian, because I do eat fish, and many would correct me) is that after reading the section on Polyface Farm, I actually began to reconsider. While the chapters on the feedlots ensured I will never touch fast food meat or supermarket meat again, I rethink my position on meat-eating for the first time in many years, and ate a bite of turkey (organic, free-range, of course) on Thanksgiving. I haven’t eaten it again since, but the fact that the book had that effect on me was huge.

    While Pollan’s new book isn’t as interesting or revolutionary, the last part on what to eat and how to eat is still very good.

    Thanks again for writing this, I keep telling everyone I know to read it, too. I think a lot of people would rather not know, because they know they will never look at a hamburger the same way again. I believe people cannot afford to not know these things. I have become a bit of a Pollan-evangelist.

  • http://rawinprogress.blogspot.com Kristi

    I’ve been meaning to read TOD for what seems like forever. So glad to read yet another inspired and passionate review of it – and I know I’ll be just as inspired and passionate about living its message after reading it.

    On another totally random note: I’m filling up on cooking shows (no pun intended) while home sick from work today, and Mary Ann Esposito just made a salad that sounds right up your alley: roasted beets topped with roasted brussels sprouts, red onions and mustard vinaigrette. And now Dan Barber is on “Chef’s Story.” Awesome.

  • Nolan

    I think it’s hearty instead of hardy and one time while dining out with friends I came to a realization that the saying “up and adam” was actually “up and at ‘em.” Boy did I feel stupid until one of my friends had the same exact revelation.

  • http://www.justfood.org Angela

    Hi Adam,

    After reading Pollen’s latest book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” which outlines the “well, what do we eat” question that many had after reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’ve just started reading TOD again after a failed attempt last summer (yes, another who got stuck on the corn section!).

    I’m really glad to see that you are raising the issue of local and sustainable eating, especially meat eating. I work for an organization that seeks to increase the number of New Yorkers that have access to local and organic foods by organizing CSAs, supporting independent farmer’s markets and helping people grow food in community gardens.

    For those in New York City that are interested in supporting a local farmer and joining a CSA, you can find out more information at http://www.justfood.org/csa/locations/ (most CSAs fill up very quickly so now is the time to inquire about joining!) In addition, to fresh fruits and veggies, some CSAs also have dairy and meat shares.

    Outside of New York, you can go to http://www.localharvest.org

    To find stores and restaurants that source from local farms with local produce and/or pasture raised and grass fed animals, go to http://www.eatwellguide.org.

    Angela

  • alison

    Thanks for the thoughtful review! I just wanted to pipe in that I would be very interested in a follow up – as in, how does this affect your food choices? And do you have any interest in visiting farms in NY state?

  • http://fms-hell.blogspot.com/ Jack Weber

    I still haven’t read it, but at the bookstore where I work, I’ve heard other booksellers who couldn’t remember the title referring to it as “You know, that corn book.” Most of them couldn’t get past that part either, which has not inspired me to read the book despite all the press.

  • http://renabussinger.com Rena

    Thanks for this great post, Adam, and thanks everyone else for the many enlightening comments. Adam and I are friends and I had the privilege of discussing The Omnivore’s Dilemma with him as he was reading it. I haven’t read the book but have been wanting to for ages and plan to pick up a copy the next chance I get. I have been a non-meat-eater for over ten years–I suspect that my personal philosophy on meat-eating and food in general would be in line with Pollan’s book. I certainly can’t say that I eat according to my principles all the time, though, so perhaps I need to become impassioned again by finally reading the OD. I generally try to eat a diet based on non-processed fresh food, but for economic reasons I don’t always make the choices I wish I could. I do spend a higher than average percentage of my income on food though, mostly to buy better quality ingredients, which often means organic and local food from the coops in Seattle, Whole Foods, etc. I think I’d benefit in my buying choices from reading Pollans book because I do get bogged down with concerns about whether it is better to buy organic eggs at Trader Joes that are trucked from California, or non-organic local eggs from the coop, etc.

    I’ve formed my own principles about food through a variety of sources over the years and when the Omnivore’s Dilemma came out I felt similar to Adam, that I didn’t need to read it because its premise was so familiar, but Adam you’ve convinced me that I have something to gain from the book.

    I am looking forward to reading it. In the meantime here is some recommended reading/viewing from me:

    My Year of Meats and All Over Creation are both great novels that tackle the perils of agri-business and manage to explore the politics of food production and consumption without being preachy. Life and Debt a compelling documentary by Stepahnie Black–about foreign economic issues in Jamaica–deals not only with the politics of the food business, but with global trade issues in general. Interestingly it was Craig’s sister Kristin who turned me on to that documentary and also one of the first people I remember talking about the Omnivore’s Dilemma when it first came out.

  • APB

    For those of you who have read OD and are asking yourselves how to navigate from there, you could pick up Pollan’s latest, “In Defense of Food.” This book, just released, was motivated by such questions. A physician friend of mine read it and told me that though he has always found Pollan’s writing enlightening and entertaining “In Defense of Food” is important from a policy point of view and that he is passing it out to his colleagues and patients.

  • becky

    Hee. Obviously I’m a weirdo… I LOVED the part about corn! It might be because I teach freshman and sophomore college students (biology and environmental science), and so many of them have no idea where their food comes from. They think that corn agriculture begins and ends with the farmers selling sweet corn at roadside stands in August, and have no idea why the push for ethanol might mean they’ll be paying more for their hamburgers in the future.

    Anyway, I thought the whole book was cool, although we aren’t doing so well at “eating locally” just yet. Part of the reason is that–well, we are buried in snow right now, so there are no farmers’ markets to frequent. We are taking steps, though–I just sent in our application for a CSA share. The dilemma we faced was–do we drive about 50 miles round-trip weekly to purchase locally grown food? But we decided our 50 miles in a car with good gas mileage was less of a carbon footprint than eating produce trucked/flown in from all over. I’m pretty excited!

    I don’t think I’ll ever be a pure locavore, though. I confess, I love seafood and peaches and lemons and other goodies too much. But I firmly believe that every step counts.

    I also read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle recently. I really enjoyed the parts that actually dealt with their garden and their personal story, but I found the discussion of the larger issues much more condescending and tedious than Pollan’s work. I may have just been spoiled by OD, I suppose.