Saturday, February 4, 2012

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Healthy Eating

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan, author of "In Defense of Food" and "Food Rules," examines exactly how food travels from farm to dinner plate in a thought-provoking expose. He delivers an eye-opening voyage into the world of food production that offers great insight to the consumer, leaving no doubt his readers' grocery shopping habits will be affected.

Research on Healthy Eating

Pollan begins his investigation in Iowa, where farms rotate between planting corn and soy beans on huge tracts of land, with the monoculture landscape apparent even in satellite pictures from outer space. Fossil based fertilizers infuse the industrial crops with petroleum, which makes its way through the rest of the food chain and into Iowa's water supply.

Cattle feedlots elsewhere offer the oversupply of corn to their hapless ruminants, who are naturally predisposed to eat grass, creating the need for antibiotics and full-time vets to patrol the herds. They are also closely confined, unable to roam in pastures, and wallow in their own excrement. Pollan was not allowed to witness the slaughter of the cows, but he interviewed people involved in the process to discover its horrors. The picture of the CAFO's (concentrated animal feeding operations) appears pretty bleak.

Pollan also worked for a week at an organic ranch in Virginia called Polyface Farm. The owner, Joel Salatin, through trial and error devised an ingenious method to replenish his depleted soil, sustainably raise an abundance of cattle, hogs and chickens, and produce astonishingly superior products. Polyface Farm's beef and poultry receive accolades from its repeat customers, including the finest chefs in the area.
Take 10% Off Your Order at
Salatin's methods work with nature, "allowing chickens to be chickens" as Pollan quotes him. Salatin considers himself a grass farmer, focusing on making the first link of the food chain very healthy. His cattle graze, leaving their cowpies for the chickens to scratch through for grub, which in turn revitalizes the grass. Polyface is the farm Pollan seems most taken with, by its natural beauty, function and transparency to its customers.

Pollan smirks at what he calls "industrial organic" farms because their products have evolved to take on many of the characteristics the purist would deplore. Organic TV dinners made with preservatives, produce shipped thousands of miles and the continuing cruel treatment of animals caught his attention. The author pontificates much about the morality of eating animals, a struggle he obviously wrestles with. He tells of a vegetarian PETA supporter who desired to eat meat and came to Polyface Farm to slaughter a chicken in person as a form of absolution.

The Omnivore's Dilemma

The meal Pollan concludes his book with is one where he hunted, gathered and cooked everything himself, with a little help from his friends. The ingredients were free, but the prodigious amount of hours he spent on this meal preclude most people from attempting to eat sustainably to the same degree.

The omnivore's dilemma is "What should I eat?" since both meat and the harvest from the land can be eaten. Unlike animals that are either carnivores or vegetarians, human beings can eat everything. Pollan concludes that the answer lies in knowing where one's food originates, and that organic farms and ranches produce food that is highly nutritious for the human diet. He believes the health of a nation's citizens lies in what they consume, and that monoculture farms are hazardous to the environment, the plants themselves, and to the people who eventually eat their produce.

The book is a very interesting read, especially for anyone who believes he is "what he eats." After turning the last page, many readers will probably adjust their eating habits.

No comments:

Post a Comment