09 March 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma has been on my radar for quite some time.  A number of friends have read it (one even went vegan after reading it) and it was universally recommended.  I was curious to read what Pollan wrote about the food industry.  I wasn't expecting to be terribly surprised.

I wasn't.  In reality I was only interested in The Omnivore's Dilemma because of the central "Pastoral" section where Pollan looks at the two sides of the organic movement - industrial and polycultural (pastoral, more like the old family ).  Pollan documented a week he spent on a polycultural family farm - Polyface Farms - that sells their naturally grass-fed and organically raised beef, chicken, pork, eggs, and produce to local residents and restaurants.  The principle behind the farm is to use polyculture to fuel the cycle of life on the farm - the cows eat grass, the chickens root for grubs and eat grass while their poop fertilizes the grass, etc - without the use of.  The extensive look at Polyface Farms in Virginia was very enlightening.  I buy the bulk of my groceries from the local co-op (particularly eggs, dairy, meats, and produce) and it's important to support local farms.  The whole industry won't change overnight (there's too much involvement from major corporations to alter mass-produced agriculture quickly) but I do think that the more people demand better and wider access to grass-fed and humanely raised beef/chicken/pork and organic produce it will lessen the demand on the current factory farm system.

I pretty much skimmed through the first section (about corn, processing, stock yards, monoculture, etc) because:
1) I live in Iowa, grew up here, and attended a school district that was half farm kids, half suburban kids.
2) My mom has a set of cousins who are all farmers, have farmed corn and soybeans for years, and at least one of them is the Pioneer seed rep for the area. So I know how factory farms work.
3) I have a Masters degree in Epidemiology - part of getting an Epi degree in a rural state is that when you take Infectious Disease Epi you learn about Zoonoses and how agribusiness plays into disease transmission.
So part one was completely not shocking to me.  It is pretty gross to think about the cows raised in overcrowded herds and over-medicated so they can be fed a diet of grain....grain isn't a natural cow dietary item.  Confession, I do occasionally eat at McDonald's (it's the french fries) and I would be happy to pay more for my burger there to get more humanely raised beef.

Part three was about Pollan's attempt at foraging/hunting for all the ingredients of a meal. It was interesting (and I'm glad it all worked out and his guests thought it was a good meal) but I wasn't as personally invested in that section of the book.  I'm pretty much allergic to being outdoors for extended periods of time (asthma, hay fever, and sunburn-prone skin will do that to you), I hate mushrooms, and I have no desire to go hunting.  If civilization collapses I'll deal then.  I have an uncle and cousins who hunt and I've tried a little of the wild game they've caught; I'm not missing much, in my opinion.

I'm glad I read The Omnivore's Dilemma.  It didn't drastically change any of my opinions about food or impart any drastically new knowledge, however, it is a good book to remind me to try to be more conscious about the origins of my groceries in future (as we all probably ought to be).

Current book-in-progress: The Poisonwood Bible and Age of Wonder
Current knitted item: Alexis's baby sweater and shrugs for the older nieces
Current movie obsession: The Hurt Locker
Current iTunes loop: Filmspotting

1 comment:

  1. I just got THE POISONWOOD BIBLE in the mail yesterday. Can't wait to start reading it, and can't wait for your review. :-)