book review: the omnivore’s dilemma

Awhile ago I was really amped up to start reading something knowledgeable and eye opening that would be beneficial to my career.

Enter The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. What is the omnivore’s dilemma? It’s that mild anxiety you feel when you don’t know what you want to eat and you have basically unlimited options. This dilemma is eased by our own personal eating preferences and what we know about food. Here’s a take from the book description:

The omnivore’s dilemma has returned with a vengeance, as the cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast-food outlet confronts us with a bewildering and treacherous food landscape. What’s at stake in our eating choices is not only our own and our children’s health, but the health of the environment that sustains life on earth.

In this groundbreaking book, one of America’s most fascinating, original, and elegant writers turns his own omnivorous mind to the seemingly straightforward question of what we should have for dinner. To find out, Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating.

This book did open my eyes to some aspects of the food industry, and I most certainly will opt for organic foods over conventional foods when given the opportunity (and cash flow!). But did the book change my life? Nope.

Some interesting things of note:

  • Perhaps America’s total confusion towards food and a normal diet is because our nation is a mix of so many cultures. We’ve never had a basic blueprint for food traditions!
  • Who run the world? Corn. Corn literally makes up most of American food. The book highlights that out of the approximately 45,000 items in the average American supermarket, over 25% of them consist of corn. That includes anything, so boxes, diapers, and whatever the mind can think of are fair game. Back in the day corn was used as a storable grain, feed for animals, heating fuel, ground flour, whiskey or beer…they were creative. Today corn can be manipulated into anything and sadly, it has very little nutritional value. Womp womp.

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  • Meat is corn, pretty much. To get cattle to gain hundreds of pounds in a short amount of time (about 14 months) the animals are fed craploads of corn, protein and fat supplements, and oodles of drugs. So that meat you’re eating? Not exactly high quality nutrition.
  • That corn meat? It has more saturated fat and less omega-3’s than grass-fed meat. There’s even thought that it is corn-fed meat specifically that causes all those lethal health problems (heart disease, etc.), not grass-fed. Hmm…
  • Antibiotics in animal feed could very well be contributing to new antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Why is this scary? Superbugs are hard to kill!

This is only the beginning of the fun facts that the book provides. Pollan discusses the organic industry, the fast food industry, and more. I learned a lot by reading the book, and I would recommend it, with one warning–it loses its momentum towards the end.

Where he lost me was his painstaking journey towards naturally sourcing an entire meal. He breaks down the hunting and foraging processes, and I just got plain ol’ bored.

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After reading this book, I’m more aware of choosing natural foods grown under healthy conditions. I do try to go grass-fed when I can, but sometimes it just isn’t available. My dream goal? To find a nearby farm where I can buy only the freshest meats.

I’ll probably just scan the farmers’ market until I find that dream farm…