Friday, 24 July 2009

Michael Pollan - The Omnivore's Dilemma

I think I'm behind the times with this - seems like everyone in blog world read this about a gazillion years ago, still, if you have read I'd love to hear your views, and if you haven't I can heartily recommend this book, so I thought I'd do a short review...

It starts out talking about corn, the peculiarities of the plant and how it germinates. I'm not sure exactly what I expected of the book, but I'm sure it wasn't an in depth discussion of corn... I was however, riveted, completely drawn into the story. By way of corn, Pollan touched on so much else and reading was like rapidly unearthing more and more gems of knowledge about food and how it works in our modern world. Things started fitting together, a big picture started building in my head.

From corn we journeyed to the world of intensively farmed meat, a part I found shocking and sad. Although I had an abstract idea that industrially farmed meat was 'bad' I had no real details on why this was so. This book has left me with a lasting picture in my mind's eye of cattle walking round in a vast concrete grid, carpeted with their own antibiotic and supplement ridden shit, eating a horrifying mixture of other animal waste parts, chemicals and corn. And with a lasting impression of the craziness of separating off parts of agriculture so that 'waste' products can not be used and put back in a cycle, and become pollution.

The section on organic food is also extremely illuminating - looking at the industrial organic and the smallscale 'balanced' and holistic farmer who may not be 'organic' in a strict legal definition sense, but is so much more so in other ways. I started dreaming at this point about living on a farm, finding out about permaculture principles and ways to make my farm a whole eco system where production is based on getting the most out of using nature's own systems. An un-intensive farm with all sorts of good foods and plants growing happily together...

It finishes on foraging and wild food, which was fascinating also, although probably less important to me than the other sections (I am unlikely to go hunting for wild boars, whilst I do face choices about organic from overseas versus non-organic small-scale local, and choices about meat and fish and processed foods every day, so the information about how things are produced was what was really useful).

I don't normally read non-fiction books through to the end - however interesting they are, I give up after a while, but I found myself reading this on the bus, in bed, everywhere, and then - probably quite annoyingly - peppering all my conversations with tidbits of information about cereal design, or cattle feed or wild mushrooms... It was really engagingly written, very vividly painting pictures of the places Pollan visited and rarely getting lost in realms of detail or complicated arguments. I enjoyed also getting a bit of an education in links between politics, business and agriculture. Definitely a lot of food for thought there.

All in all, highly recommended, for anyone at all interested in food, where some of it comes from, and why.


Kylli said...

This looks very interesting, I have just placed a hold on it at the library and will put my thoughts on JKLM later!!

Eco Yogini said...

I really liked this book, and also had some issues with it as well. But like you, it took me a while to actually read it (I finished it about a month ago). I thought the stuff about Big Organic was especially illuminating and it definitely made me think twice about continuing as a meat eater (i still am... but wanting sustainable beef).

I thought, there were moments when it sounded an awful like an academic taking an interest in an industry that he doesn't quite understand. I can definitely see why many farmers don't respect him- his "hunting" and foraging stuff were a little silly. But then, I grew up as a fisherman's daughter who went hunting with her dad... so maybe that was it peeking through.

Overall, I also recommend the book as a must read :)