Monday, January 24, 2011

The Omnivore's Dilemna

I know that this is technically the second book posting of January, but this is outside of my New Years Resolution (NYR) parameters. This one is personal. This is a book that I've heard "Have you read..." in reference to it probably five or six times. Apparently, to run in the circle that I run, which is to say fairly health conscious, eco conscious people, this is a must read. So I read it. Here are my thoughts (and before anyone says, "Oh wait, you also need to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I assure's sitting in my room right now, already checked out from the library)...

First of all, The Omnivore's Dilemna, by Michael Pollan, is divided into three sections: (in a nutshell) corn, organic, and foraging. My first impression, which lasted throughout the entire first section, was really underwhelming. I wasn't hugely impressed with the resplendent monotony of the corn section. At that poitn, while I was generally enjoying the text enough to keep reading, I wasn't riveted to the pages. It was depressing to read about and sure, further validated some of our household practices, but I was still kind of left wondering why this book was SO exciting/enthralling for everyone to recommend it to me. Pollan absolutely knows his stuff. But it was a bit much too sciency for me. Still, like I said before, interesting enough to keep going, especially because there are definitely some good moments in this section. Truly, the most compelling aspect of it is that I know people who farm and could envision them doing this work. And it's certainly not un-interesting, the story of field to table. McDonald's really became synonymous with all of the ills that are incorporated into corn/soybean farming in this country; this particular fast food chain definitely did not receive a positive review.

The section on organic farming, however, I found to be fairly fascinating and much more of a gripping narrative. Undoubtedly this is spurred by my fairly recent conversion to this "genre" of food. Most interesting to me was that Whole Foods, the organic-ish market that really sells that lifestyle, came off in something of a negative light as well...almost, dare I say, as the McDonald's of the organic world. Really the only reason for the negative implications associated with Whole Foods in this section came from the tie to oil in order to stock a supply of organic food year round. While Pollan never comes out and says it, I think that even he has to admit that the notion of refusing to sell out of season produce/food that has been shipped to markets across the U.S. that was grown in other places is foolish. It just is. While regrettable that we can't have fresh produce AT ALL (save for local greenhouses, who are still tinkering with nature) during the winter season, that doesn't mean that we should forsake such a portion of our diet for months on end because it takes oil to bring it to us. Pollan narrates a week-long adventure living/working at a truly sustainable & organic farm in this section, and this story was, in my opinion, the best part of the book. It's incredible how nature takes care of itself given the ability to do so. And it also cements the notion in my mind that food is a gift, once which we are fortunate to savor and enjoy (yes, even meat!), but that also comes with responsibilities. When there is a face and a story behind the $12 chicken, then you know what, I'm okay with paying the extra money. Be conscious of what you choose to eat; be conscious of how you eat affects people and the environment around you; savor what you eat. Don't gorge on cheap food just because you can afford it. There's a price to pay for that, too.

Finally, the foraging section, while quaint, totally oozes California (where Pollan lives). This section revolves around "the perfect meal" that the author cooked with all local ingredients while also incorporating at least one element of all of the different kingdoms that Pollan foraged/gathered/collected himself: animal, vegetable, fungi, and mineral. This essentially was a story about a) hunting and killing a wild pig and b) hunting and collecting mushrooms. Yes, this guy chose to hunt and kill on purpose, but the part that I find gratifying in this is the sense of revulsion that he experienced after he saw pictures of himself from that primal man moment--the vainglorious arrogance of human kind unfairly killing wildlife using unnatural means. I'm really anti-hunting for sport. It was a touch disgusting to read about his excitement after he formed his plan until he realized his aversion to stalking-killing animals. (At least that's how I interpreted it.)

All in all, not a bad read. In fact, a lot of thought provoking moments, and as far as I can tell, these are largely not politically motivated. This guy is an investigative journalist and teaches journalism at Berkley. While living/teaching in/at Berkley essentially clues us in on what are likely his political leanings, he really does a nice job staying middle of the road as an investigative journalist is supposed to do. I kept waiting for him to divulge his motivation behind these pursuits, but I really think that the guy is just motivated by curiosity. And, he's published before under roughly the same umbrella of thought, so this appears to just be his niche.

So...have you read The Omnivore's Dilemna by Michael Pollan? No? You should. Soon! :-)


The Erudite Lit-ite said...

Sometimes I re-read what I wrote to see how if I managed to get across what I was truly wanting to say, and I noticed that I said something about "interested enough in this text to keep reading..." Wow. Lame. I'm such an English major!

sarahesperanza said...

you haven't read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? You should! Soon. :-)

The Erudite Lit-ite said...

goober. you're being snarky. ;-)