Thursday, February 22, 2007

On the Horns of the Omnivore’s Dilemma

Frozen beer battered fish, frozen French fries dumped on cookie pans and slid into the oven at 425. A bag of frozen vegetable mix dropped into a bowl and popped into the microwave for 10 minutes. Two California oranges pulled from a bag, peeled and placed in a bowl.

The microwave dings and dinner in America is ready. Elapsed time: 26 minutes.

The tale of “industrial food” for industrial eaters is one of four food stories documented by Michael Pollan in his book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.” It’s not a diet book nor a self help book but a look at finding answers for a remarkably simple question – What’s for dinner?

America, Pollen tells us, is awash in food choices all marinating in an uncultured mix of our own neurosis. There are nearly unlimited food choices available to each of us but we’re disconnected from any solid guidance about what we should choose so we’re guided by fear and powerful marketing influences.

Nutrition is one thing. Eating is another. Marketing and convenience and the need to eat all churn in our heads while we worry about what’s good, what’s better, what’s awful and how in the world to we’re going to make our way though it.

It turns out we’re eating our way through it.

Pollen’s approach is to document four food chains: the industrial food chain starting in an Iowa corn field, commodity-scale organic growers in California, a pastoral grass-based farm producing for local markets in Virginia, and finally hunting and foraging from the forest all followed through to dinner at the end.

For anyone interested in where dinner comes from and taking a good look at how it ends up on your table, or more likely in your car, Pollen’s journeys from the field to the fork spins out a yarn of post WWII America that first learned to dry and salt, then can and freeze, and now to manufacture and package its dinner.

The book is reasonably non-judgmental. The most pointed barbs do stick in the industrial food chain but concedes the other food chains aren’t much more realistic. Our dependence on industrial food requires an industrial eater and the shear volume of food needed to sustain large urban and suburban populations with no access to food production of their own literally demands that the flow of calories and proteins continue.

You’ll pick up some well documented facts reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and you’ll get to spend time having a new look at dinner.

Check out the book at!

Omnivore's Dilemma