Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

This is one of the longest reads I've ever had. I started it in May 2012 and finished it Dec 2014.

Why you ask?

Was it hard to read? Boring? Too techincal?

None of those things. It was simply my swim bag book.
Which meant that I only read a chapter (or less) after doing my laps...in the summer months only...once maybe twice a week.

It was a fascinating read from start to finish - thought provoking, personal and very easy to read.

I have been on a personal journey to eat well & to eat consciously most of my adult life. As time goes by I'm also keen to eat as ethically and as sustainably as I possibly can. I try to source fresh, organic produce in season. I read the labels on everything I buy.

And I read foodie books.

There are so many messages to take out of The Omnivore's Dilemma that I'm not even sure where to start. It's the kind of book you need to read slowly, to allow time for all the ideas to sit, develop and work on you as they will.

Perhaps the best way to go is to pull out a few key points that caught my eye...to tempt you hopefully into reading this book for yourself!

* ' "Eating is an agricultural act," as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too.'

* The ubiquitous nature of corn - it feeds our cattle, the chickens, salmon, turkey, lambs & pigs. Which means there is some corn in our milk, cheese, eggs & yoghurt.It's in our soft drinks as HFCS - high fructose corn syrup.
Other corn additives include corn flour, cornstarch, corn oil, leavenings & lecithin, the mono-, di-, & triglycerides, colourings & citric acid, maltodextrin, glucose syrup, modified starch, ascorbic acid, crystalline fructose, lactic acid, maltose, caramel colour, ethanol, MSG, xanthan gum all = corn.
Corn is in our tinned fruit, soups, gravy, margarines, salad dressings, sauces, relishes & even our vitamins.

* ' "You are what you eat" is a truism hard to argue with, and yet it is...incomplete, for you are what what you eat eats, too.'

* 'The United Nations reported that in 2000 the number of people suffering from overnutrition - a billion - had officially surpassed the number suffering from malnutrition - 800 million.'

* 'When food is abundant and cheap, people will eat more and get fat.'

* 'Our bodies are storing reserves of fat against a famine that never comes.'

* Pollan went on a mission on pg 115-17 to detail the ingredients in McDonalds and other fast foods. I knew about the high sugar content, but was surprised by all the corn based additives and ingredients.

* The Salatin's from Polyface Farm are truly inspirational with their seasonal, rotational, intricate 'dance' with nature. Anyone interested in growing their own food, at any level, should read this book just for these sections.

* 'So we find ourselves as a species almost back where we started: anxious omnivores struggling once again to figure out what it is wise to eat. Instead of relying on the accumulated wisdom of a cuisine, or even the wisdom of our sense, we rely on expert opinion, advertising, government food pyramids, and diet books, and we place faith in science to sort out for us what culture once did with rather more success.'
I found the thought of suspect science rather confronting until I realised that the 'science' Pollan was talking about was the science sponsored by the food industry.

* 'As a rule, animals in the wild don't get good deaths surrounded by their loved ones.'

* '...appreciate just how parochial, and urban, an ideology animal rights is. It could only thrive in a world where people have lost contact with the natural world, where animals no longer pose any threat to us...and our mastery of nature seems unchallenged.'

* 'What's wrong with eating animals is the practice, not the principle.'

Michael Pollan is great for anyone interested in the food we eat, where it comes from, what it's made from and what it does to our bodies. The Omnivore's Dillema is US-centric, but the questions he asks about what we eat and why are universal.


  1. I'm pretty sure I read a quarter of this one. It's the one that starts with corn isn't it? It was fascinating, but my other reads must power on. I need to buy a copy and get to reading it. Actually I want to read all Michael Pollan's books- they're always fascinating, but slightly horrifying at the same time. Well done for finishing. What will your next pool book be I wonder? Nonfiction is good, as it's hard to sustain a narrative thread over that sort of schedule. Short stories would be good too.

    1. Yes it is the corn one & yes I've read a few of Pollan's books now too. He is immensely readable.

      I finished Only the Animals at the pool a few weeks back. Now I think it might be the new Norman Doidge book for the swim bag (see my Monday post on bronas books :-)


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