The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I just finished listening to the audio book of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was great, but I’ll get to that after a brief digression. 

I’ve been listening to a decent number of audio books over the past few years, but until now I’d never heard the same reader in 2 books of different genres.  In addition to being an excellent reader for this book, Scott Brick also read the most recent Dune books.  So I was mildly distracted through the first couple of discs waiting for the words “kwisatch haderack” to come out of his mouth.  I guess given the epic nature of this book, it was appropriate, but a little jarring at first. 🙂

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is Michael Pollan’s big food treatise, which starts with a simple premise: trace the path of 4 meals produced in different ways from grown raw ingredients to the final meal to be eaten.  As he states in the intro, it was originally going to be 3 meals: industrial, organic, and self supplied (for lack of a better term), but as he started investigating the organic industry, he realized there were really 2 camps there, the industrial organic and local organic.  While the local food movement was still young in 2002, it was there, and presumably his book helped further it dramatically over the years.

There is so much in this book that is fascinating.  The entire first section of the book, the industrial meal, dives into the absolute reliance of our modern food supply on cheap corn.    How we got to having all this cheap corn, and the effect it has on the rest of the food chain is pretty amazing.  The average american gets > 50% of his/her callories from corn.  Either directly processed, or through meet that was fed cheap corn.  Because industrial grown corn requires artificial fertilizer (which is petroleum based) you can calculate the gallons of oil required for a pound of corn, and even a pound of beef.

The industrial organic and local organic sections show a rich history of where the organic movement started, and where it’s ended up after scaling up to global levels.  The juxtiposition of the two is amazing, and the exploration of ways to produce meat outside of the industrial system is quite compelling.  You’ll learn more about the biology of many farm animals and grasses than you ever thought you would, and will be better for it.

Lastly Pollan addresses his final meal, where he is determined to grow, hunt, or gather every element of it.  He makes an incredibly elaborate meal, including bread with air captured yeast, so he’s really pushing the limits as to what you can do in full hunter gatherer mode, and the results are impressive.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone.  The writing style is great, and what you’ll learn along the way is invaluable to understanding many things.  Why high fructose corn syrup is in everything?  Why America is continuously going through food fads while the rest of the world is not?  And why we spend so much of our energy on figuring out what to eat?  Which is, of course, the Omnivore’s Dilemma.

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