Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Omnivore's Dilemma ~ by Michael Pollan

Title, author, copyright date, and genre?
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals ~ by Michael Pollan, 2006, nonfiction

Why did I choose to read this book?
My newest book club decided to do things a bit differently, choosing a monthly theme instead of all reading the same book. For our first meeting in March we decided to read about food, and I chose this instead of a novel like Chocolat.

Was it a good book? Would you recommend it?
The book was very well researched and well written, but so dense with information that I scribbled page after page of notes to myself and often had to take a break from the intensity of the book. I found myself needing breaks to mull over the what I was discovering. I'm sure I could have skimmed big chunks of the book and gotten the major part of what Pollan was saying, but I didn't want to miss any of it. And thus it was taking forever to read.

What did you like about it?
I like passages like the one I quoted on Wednesday here on this blog about Corn and grass. (Go read it ... I'll wait 'til you get back.) Here are some other good quotes I gathered:
"By replacing solar energy with fossil fuel, by raising millions of food animals in close confinement, by feeding those animals foods they never evolved to eat, and by feeding ourselves foods far more novel than we even realize, we are taking risks with our health and the health of the natural world that are unprecedented" (p. 10).

"The calories we eat, whether in an ear of corn or a steak, represent packets of energy once captured by a plant" (p. 21).

"Government farm programs once designed to limit production and support prices (and therefore farmers) were quietly rejiggered to increase production and drive down prices. Put another way, instead of supporting farmers, during the Nixon administration the government began supporting corn at the expense of farmers. Corn, already the recipient of a biological subsidy in the form of synthetic nitrogen, would now receive an economic subsidy too, ensuring its final triumph over the land and the food system" (p. 48).

"[O]ur food animals found themselves ... leaving widely dispersed farms in places like Iowa to live in densely populated new animal cities. These places are so different from farms and ranches that a new term was needed to denote them: CAFO -- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. ... Raising animals on old-fashioned mixed farms ... used to make simple biological sense: You can feed them the waste products of your crops, and you can feed their waste products to your crops. In fact, when animals live on farms the very idea of waste ceases to exist; what you have instead is a closed ecological loop -- what in retrospect you might call a solution. One of the most striking things that animal feedlots do ... is to take this elegant solution and neatly divide it into two new problems: a fertility problem on the farm (which must be remedied with chemical fertilizers) and a pollution problem on the feedlot (which seldom is remedied at all)" (pp. 67-68).
What did you dislike?
That there's just too much of it. That all those quotes above are from only the first 68 pages out of 450 pages! There's so much more I want to tell you about the book, like the grass farmer (yes, grass farmer) who rotates his cattle every day onto new forage so they don't destroy the grass that feeds them. Like his bringing in the chickens a few days later to eat the grubs that are growing on the cow patties, thus cleaning up the area before the cattle are rotated back onto that same plot of grass, thus keeping his cattle healthy without resorting to antibiotics that get into us and our children because "you are what what you eat eats, too" (p. 84). Think about that again: You are what what you eat eats, too. And even so we haven't gotten to part three of the book, where Pollan describes gathering your own food.

Tell us whatever you thought.
I think it's a necessary book, an important book, a long book.

Rated: 7/10, good


June said...

What a neat approach for your book club to take. I've never heard of doing that before, but I can see how it'd be a nice change.

monster paperbag said...

interesting book, great review :)..

Bookfool said...

I love that idea for your book club, choosing a topic without making everyone read a specific title. As to the book . . . I found even the intro a bit dense, so I've set it aside, for now. But, I love the idea and do want to get back to the book, one day.

Jeane said...

I've been hearing a lot about this book, and really want to read it. It sounds very interesting.