A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
I enjoyed this book very much, but felt like it took me forever to read. The chapters were so packed with information, it made my head swim and periodically I had to set it aside and read something else, to let my brain rest and digest it all. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a detailed examination of how food gets to our tables- following the path of four different meals and then evaluating them in the final chapter of each section. Along the way Pollan talks about all different kinds of food sources- big agriculture, where corn has come to be included in almost every processed item you find in the grocery store; the atrocities of fast food (this section reminded me of Fast Food Nation); organic farming- both big, little and "off the grid" (think local and slow food movements); and surprisingly, food which he hunted and gathered himself from the forest. The part where the author followed a beef steer he had purchased himself brought to mind Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf. There is also a lot of overlap between The Omnivore's Dilemma and things discussed in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Pollan shares many of his experiences conducting first-hand research: visits to feedlots and cornfields, to chicken sheds and organic farms, to tracts of forestland in pursuit of wild pig and mushrooms. This book is a lot weightier than the previous ones I've read by him, but just as interesting.
I learned so many things I can't possibly mention them all. That organic food isn't always what you might think it is. That surplus war materials have been poured into the soil: fertilizers were made from ammonium nitrate left over from making explosives, and pesticides made from chemicals originally created for napalm and agent orange. That raw fish is made safer by eating it with wasabi, which has antimicrobial properties- yay for sushi! That we know next to nothing about mushrooms- they collect energy (it is speculated) from the moon, not the sun, so don't have calories, but some lunar equivalent. I never knew.
Edited to add: I have just discovered this very interesting letter which Michael Pollan wrote in response to the C.E.O. of Whole Foods "taking issue with some of the points I have made about his grocery chain in my book."
Rating: 4/5 ........ 450 pages, 2006
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