Monday, August 4, 2008

Why you should read the Omnivore's Dilemma:

* I just finished, and I'd like to discuss with all our readers :-)

* The book is very informative, but not clinical. It is engaging and written to the layperson.

* You will increase your vocabulary by reading just one chapter. The author, Michael Pollan, is an amazing writer, and witty and funny. I have never laughed so hard at someone describing their experience eating a McDonald's meal.

* Pollan gives you a very clear picture of where the food on your dinner table is coming from. He studies various "food chains", starting with the industrial (your typical supermarket or restaurant), moving onto the industrial organic (e.g., Whole Foods), then onto the beyond organic local farm, and he finally finishes with the hunter-gatherer (it's fascinating to read about the hunting adventures of a nerdy Berkeley professor).

* Pollan is an extremely down-to-earth guy. He's not a vegetarian, or a self-righteous organic snob. He's just a smart guy who cares about food.

* The book is a good story in that it's biographical. Pollan talks about his own personal experiences in coming to grips with the origins of the foods he is eating.

* Pollan is not a liberal in the common sense of the word because he deeply appreciates the importance of culture, tradition, and custom. The lessons he draws from food can be applied to other important cultural norms.

*Where else can you read about a cosmopolitan professor, who, for the sake of understanding his subject, makes himself kill chickens and hunt wild boar?!?

* If you are reading this, you are probably a mom who has control over most of the food buying in your family, and therefore has a heightened responsibility to make informed food purchases (this is my way of making you feel guilty for not reading the book).

* My husband, Mr. Red, has become so inspired that he's considering killing our Thanksgiving Turkey with his own hands.

* If you are depressed after reading the book, he has written a more uplifting and solution-based sequel (so I've heard)--In Defense of Food. I'm on to that next. And don't just read the sequel, that's lame.


* Sometimes Pollan gets carried away giving way too many details about certain topics that I would consider peripheral. For example, I definitely learned way more than I ever wanted to about corn and fungi.

* The book is a bit redundant, and could be at least 50 pages shorter (it's a 400 page read).

* He's way too into theorizing about the evolutionary explanation for ALL natural phenomenon. I mean, sometimes things happen in nature and it just isn't necessary to theorize as to how that event is a part of natural selection.

If you have read it, or are considering reading it and have questions, let's chat!


B-Mama said...

Oooh, the ecological biologist nerd in me was totally captivated reading the line:
"He's way too into theorizing about the evolutionary explanation for ALL natural phenomenon."

Now I have to read this book, even if I'm a little more nonchalant about food! Maybe this will officially convert me... Or maybe I'll just have to skip ahead to the sequel (winkwink :) Thanks for the good rec.

B-Mama said...

And one more thing, I would like ringside seats for Mr. Red's battle with the turkey. Count me in for Thanksgiving. Hysterical. I think GG would like to join. lol

AWOL Mommy said...


I love this book. Two years ago when I read it, it completely changed our family lifestyle. It changed the way we budget and live.

I agree with a lot that you have said, although I did like the fungi-hunting section in all of its excruciating detail.

One learning point I took away from Pollan's book is that the "organic" label in bigger stores is not always as holistic or as natural a way to go as the stuff sold by local farmers who may not have the certification of being organic, but certainly raise their food in a healthier context.

He also taught me all the secret names for corn derivative sugars, he taught me to despise ConAgra, and he really taught us that it is ok to spend a significant amount of your family's budget on food. When I finished this book I was all pumped up about how we had to buy organic dairy, meat, everything really. My poor Army husband just looked at me and said "that stuff costs 3x as much". True, but Pollan makes an excellent point about how sick we have become in the US. We see food as just another commodity to purchase and, as such, it should be cheap. He reminds us that this commodity goes IN our bodies. It is not a cute sweater or another piece of electronics that you can afford to get cheaply made from China. Oh no, if we skimp on food then we deserve the flavorless, nutritionally devoid foods we get.

One last thing, I recently heard Pollan interviewed on NPR about _In Defense of Food_ and he offered a great tip about how to shop healthier when you are at the supermarket. He said: "stay on the perimeter, don't go in the middle aisles." So great! You know exactly what he means -- hit the produce hard, get some whole dairy, meats, bread and go home. What is in the middle except POp-Tarts, Spiderman Mac 'n' Cheese and all the other things your kids will bug you for anyway?

Kate E. said...

For those daunted by the length let me HIGHLY recommend the audio book version. It is pricey so I would run your local library and borrow it (little plug for us librarians there).

I know Alice has been known to listen to audiobooks after the kids are in bed while she tidies up and I think it is an awesome idea.

Right Said Red said...

AWOL mommy,

have you hunted any fungi?


I'm thinking of videotaping the battle--if it ever occurs. We have friends that have invited us to their farm and offered Mr. Red the honor of participating in the turkey killing. It's just talk right now, we'll see if things materialize!

AWOL Mommy said...

I have only hunted fungi on my daughter's feet after a nasty public pool incident.

Anonymous said...

I'm a city-slicker who learned to slaughter food animals, and I recommend it. Turkeys are a great place to start. But don't joke about it; especially if your kids are there, you should emphasize the aspect of sacrifice. In Jewish tradition, a kosher butcher is to be a learned and pious man so he doesn't lose his sense of reverence or become brutalized by his work, and it's a profound insight, even for those of us who slaughter only rarely.