“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. ” ― Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
In this blog post I will discuss The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, the beauty and liberation of small, local farming, big food companies, corn and how it is destructive for farmers, the fast food industry, the animal industry and the modern traps, how processed food is not worth the convenience, and why I love Pollan’s books tremendously!
The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan is when it comes to eating nothing is simple, straightforward, or without consequence. If we do not think about what we eat and just go off of the cereal commercials or fill our lives with processed food, our bodies will become nutritionally deficient, sick, and possibly laden by disease. If we only eat processed food we also support big food companies, Monsanto, and other corporations that have harmful and unethical practices. Pollan beckons the reader to dig deeper and to understand that our food choices matter. Beyond just our health he asks us to look at the lives of the animals we eat and how on a large scale they are not raised humanly. He also asks: aren’t the farmers involved getting the resources they deserve? Is it fair? What are the holistic costs of processed food?
think for yourself
Some authors who write books on eating well and being healthy use an authoritative voice to tell the reader they need to change and buy organic. I feel this approach is not the most helpful. Pollan does not arrogantly say eating organic is right and everything else is wrong. He investigates the difference in organic food vs. conventional produce/processed food. He deconstructs the fair practices from the farmer’s perspective, the realities of how that money from the food we buy is giving back to the farm or to the food giants, and how organic food can differ greatly in taste, nutritional value, and ethical impact.
what are you eating? corn, corn, oh and maybe a little more corn?!
Pollan has a great sense of humor about corn. He discusses the impact the industry of corn has on big farmers, small farmers, and human health. He lightheartedly refers to corn as a being that succeeded in taking over much of the earth and more specifically farm land. If it had the ability to dream of concurring the American processed food system, Pollan would say it succeeded. He points out that so much of our processed food on a global scale is largely made up of corn. Many of us enjoy a corn on the cob in August while the sun is hot and the nights are long. Corn has moved far beyond this.
hydrogenated oils and the meat industry in america
In processed food we eat corn in the form of hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils are in everything from bread to ice cream, in the fillers in starchy carbohydrates, to the food that feeds the animals that then feed many humans. Pollan describes the life of an industrial cow (as he bought one and followed it’s life in the fed lot). It is not at all OK. They don’t get to move, or play, or eat things that make them feel good. With this information it is easy to see why it would be hard to still eat animals raised this way. Pollan has taught me more about the corrupt animal food industry. Animals from cows, to pigs, to chickens are fed corn and a mixture of other animal parts. Many times these mixtures contain their own species. This is so destructive and cruel. It is also of vital importance that I know more about how this works. This knowledge furthers my conviction to not be a part of this. We have the power to not eat animals who are forced to live this way. It is easy to see how people become vegetarian and vegan. I get it. I still eat meat. I have known for the past 15 years that I could only eat free range animals who were allowed access to pasture and a good quality of life. The knowledge that Pollan imparts educates the reader even further into why animals who are raised sustainably are so important. When animals eat corn as opposed to their natural diet they are also much less nutritious to eat.
I now get my meat from Walden Local Meat Co. Check them out!
Farmers should be valued!
Corn is not only bad for our health when it is over processed it is also not good for the farmers involved. Pollan goes into detail about his experience on a farm with a true big corn farmer. He tells the story of how corn farmers are continuing to be bullied into growing more corn from the government through defective subsidies. The farmer grows more and continues to lose more money. As corn goes up in quantity the price is driven down. Pollan gives the reader more and more reasons to not participate in a system such as this. He also discusses the fast food industry. All fast food is mostly corn. When he breaks it all down the truth is astonishing.
"...So that's us: processed corn, walking."
local, small, and strong
Pollan spends time with a local, small Kansas farmer who does not sell his meat and produce to anyone who cannot pick it up themselves. His relationship with this farmer started with a phone call where Pollan asked him to mail him his quality, sustainable meat and the farmer said no. This led to Pollan’s week stay on the farm where he got up at 5 a.m. and worked. He got to see cows, pigs, and chickens living together in harmony. The animals on this farm use their own excrement to compost the grass the other animal will fed on in the next few days. Farming can be a symbiotic and beautiful thing. The reader cannot help but see how amicable quality, organic farming can be. The chickens and the cows of this small farm had a relationship of reciprocity, they were raised humanly by content farmers, and were delicious. Sounds ideal to me.
"...When chickens get to live like chickens, they'll taste like chickens, too."
make it and kill it yourself
Pollan’s third big adventure was creating a meal that he foraged and hunted himself. He made a connection through all three stages of his journey to take more responsibility for the food he was consuming. He did this through educating himself about the processed food industry, then killing an animal he helped raise on a small farm, and finished with the idea of only eating what he could pull from the ground or was an animal he could hunt himself. He called this the perfect meal once it came into fruition with a group of his loved ones. He was real about it’s faults. He made the distinction that it was not the most delicious by any means. He burnt one of his foraged mushrooms and the sea salt from San Francisco was too toxic to eat. But it was perfect because he did what he said he was going to do and the meal came from his own two hands.
I had not realized how much corn was in everything. I have not eaten processed food and things with hydrogenated oils in them for a long time. This was a great lesson on how often corn is added to processed food. I thought it was amazing when he did the calculations of how much corn was in the fast food meal that he and his family ate while driving in the car burning fossil fuel. The connection he made between the processed food industry and the fossil fuel industry was necessary, bold, and scary. This is so important to understand. I think I was avoiding seeing this hard truth that big business really has blended these industries of war and food together. I feel much more educated on the connection between fuel and food. I am partaking in intelligent discusses on the subject and I am recommending this book regularly. I know organic food is expensive. Books like this make it even more real how I cannot put a price tag on my health or on the lives of the people and animals who get that food to me.
How it would feel to kill a chicken
I loved when he processed his experience of killing a chicken he had watched live on the farm for the past week. I can’t imagine how it would feel for the farmer who raises animals regularly from beginning to end. I am so curious about this. This was the first real story I had read about how it was to kill about 300 chickens humanely and without ruining the people who do it. It was incredible to learn that small farmers only kill when necessary. Many small farmers spread out how many times a year that they kill their animals. Pollan discussed studies that have shown that workers who are forced to do this daily show more of a tendency towards violence and causing harm.
When we participate in eating processed food, what is at stake?
This was further education into how there are a few people on the top of the big food giant companies who are making money off of the backs of corn farmers. I knew the government subsidies and benefits they offered farmers were disreputable. I did not realize the debt that many farmers are in just to keep going. I also didn't realized how trapped many of them feel because other crops just won’t pay the bills. My friend would work on a corn harvest in the month of July while we were off for the summer from college. I would hear crazy stories. It is sad to hear that the more corn they grow the less money they make. It is extremely unfair and is such a broken system. Pollan does a wonderful job of tying a lot of complex information into one succinct section of his book on the corn industry. I hadn't realized how interlocked the fuel and food industries are. Corn truly is the essential link.
I love Michael pollan!
I am absolutely in love with this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned so much about industrial farming vs. local, smaller, organic farms. I loved his stories about humanly raised animals. I was really emotionally painful to read about the feed lots. They are full of sad tales of the tortured lives of industrially raised cows, pigs, chickens, and more. I am so impressed by Pollan’s honesty with how much of a privilege it is to eat organic. I enjoy how he playfully critiques this privilege especially in terms of elite groups of foodies in America. Some people can afford to buy local, organic, and sustainable food. Many cannot. Even with the best intentions a lot of the times many of us are still ignorant to how the choices we make every day either benefit or hurt the small farmer. He seems to critique this without being rude or arrogant and yet he simply brings attention to the fact that figuring out, whats for dinner? is no simple endeavor. It is truly an omnivore’s dilemma.
His tone and the way he approaches his book is also brilliant. He doesn't come out ordering the reader around telling us what to think, he lets the reader accompany him on his journey. As he goes through the corn fields with the big farmers, visits the small farmer and kills a chicken himself, and makes a meal for his loved ones from things he foraged and hunted, he lets the reader think for ourselves. He lets us ask the questions with him and he provides real answers as to why organic tastes better and is more sustainable. He bases his beliefs and opinions in experience and scientific research. I respect that. I love it. His writing is approachable from many different political stances, opinions, or perspectives. I believe this is a writing style and way of educating that has the real potential to change American’s perspective on: whats for dinner?