Friday, June 18, 2010

Review: Omnivore's Dilemma

I have been reading the Omnivore's Dilemma for the past couple weeks, and I think everyone should read this book.  I'm going to be giving several of these books out for Christmas or maybe forth of July because this book is seriously eye opening and everyone should know this stuff. 

Michael Pollan takes the reader through the American food industry examining the inputs to four separate meals:
1) McDonald's fast food
2) Organic dinner made from purchases at Whole Foods
3) Dinner made from locally & sustainably produce food
4) Dinner made from foods personally grown, foraged or hunted

Most of us 'aware' consumers know that the food that goes into McDonald's empire is not ethically raised by any sense of the imagination.  Unfortunately I don't think the masses understand the extent to how unethical the production of this "Food" is. 

The entire perfection of nature is turned inside out to make things "cheaper" and quicker for right now.  The true cost of production is not taken into account.  Following the meat for a McDonald's hamburger was one of the most upsetting things in this book.  Cows are forced to eat corn which makes them sick and in need of constant antibiotics because corn is cheap(thanks to government subsidies).   

Surprisingly, when Michael starts tracking back the organic food people purchase at Whole Foods, the reader sees that consumers aren't getting what they expect.  While no(or very little) pesticides are used in producing their food, the practices are not sustainable at all when production is at such a massive level.  Whole Foods does not buy from the local farmer, but from the massive farms in California, Chile and Argentina (for example). 
The way Michael explains why massive organic farming isn't sustainable is by sharing his experience spending a week at a very sustainable farm Polyface.   Joel Salatin, one of the farmers of Polyface, shows Micheal's the ins and outs of his farm.  He explains how the cows and the chickens and the pigs all work together over the same land to create a perfect equilibrium. 
While the cows eat the grass, their manure fertilizes the fields which produces grubs that feeds the chickens who spread out the manure to better fertilize the fields.  It is all a big circle and becomes hard to see which piece is feeding the next.  Over a generation of farming Joel, his father and his son have developed movables chicken coops and cow pastures to optimize the symbiotic relationship. 
While reading this book, I became so upset with myself.  I understood how terrible the mainstream meat production was, but I still wanted this food.  My brain doesn't want to support this, but my stomach is still hungry for convenience.  I love to eat out, but I know 99.9% of the restaurants are buying antibiotic pumped meat and pesticide covered produce. 

I am working on changing my families habits so we can support local farmers.  After watching Food Inc, I felt it was important to vote with my dollars.  This book made me understand where I really want to put those dollars.  I don't feel like I have given this book justice, so please just read this book.  Michael is so good at explaining everything. 

Please support your local farmers.  There are more and more of them and with more demand, this 'opt out' option will get bigger and bigger.  Check out to find local farmers and CSAs. 

Have you read this book?  If so, what did you think?


  1. I haven't read this book, but it's on my list of things to read. It seems very eye opening and informative! I'm going to have to check it out soon!

  2. I read this book a few months ago, and LOVED it. I think everyone in America should be required to read this book (if only!). It is incredibly eye-opening, and it really made me rethink about where my food is coming from. Our food production chain here in America is, by no means, transparent. Now, I really try to buy local if possible. Great book!

  3. I'm going to have to read it- great summary.

  4. We read this book in my Ethics class. It was great. There is a Facebook group called Michael Pollan for Secretary of Agriculture! ;-)

    I like to freeze baked meatballs made from ground turkey and burgers too. (I have a GREAT recipe I can email you.) The trick for these things is to have the good meat on hand in the freezer.

    I think the part of this book that really blew me away was how difficult is for the small organic growers to actually get their meat to market. They pay out the wazoo to get into those disgusting mass market slaughterhouses. Yuck!

  5. Having read this a few years' back, I can't remember everything with clarity, but I remember being really interested in the parts about how "organics" have become simply another Big Business/Industry, for the most part. Wasn't there something about organic foods being grown simply one field over from the conventional stuff, by the big agricultural giants? Eye-opening...