The Omnivore's Dilemma
Whooo! I just finished reading this Michael Pollan's book, named one of the 10 best books in 2006 by the NY Times. And what an excellent read it was. Over the last few weeks I almost missed my subway stop more than a few times on my commute to work because I was too much immersed in learning all about the omnivore's dilemma -- that is, what a modern man is to eat everyday?
The concept was as simple as it can be -- what am I going to eat today? What is it that I am eating? Where did it come from? How did it find its way to my plate? The book was divided into three sections: industrial/corn; pastoral/grass; personal/forest. The author traces the footprints of all the food ingredients back to its fundamental roots. Then, in the end, armed with the knowledge of the what, where, and how of the food, he sat down and enjoyed (at least tried to enjoy) the meal.
Mr. Pollan made a strong case with this question: why wouldn't you want to know who makes your food? We worry about a trustworthy investment advisor, a dependable car mechanic, a knowledgeable real estate agent, and even just a plumber. We solicit personal recommendations and website reviews before we go out and select any of these people. Why do we care less about the people/operations behind what nourishes our bodies? There are many possible answers -- like our trust in the USDA and the FDA. But we simply can't deny that most of us are operating with a state of blissful ignorance.
The industrial chain of operations led Mr. Pollan back to a field of corn in Iowa. From there he made his way to chicken farms and cattle feedlots. Along the way he learned about the antibiotics necessary for huge crowds of animals confined to a small space; the fossil fuel necessary to make nitrogen fertilizers for the corn; the pH change in a corn-fed cattle's stomaches that fosters the growth of deadly E. coli strain. Then, he and his family enjoyed a $14 McDonald's meal in a car speeding down an interstate. He also visited a grass farm on which grass, trees, chickens, pigs, cows, and humans constitute a sustainable harmonious farming cycle. And then at last, his exhilarating experiences of hunting (wild boar!), foraging (morels, chanterelles, and abalone!), and gardening made a most fascinating read.
My little write-up of course cannot do justice to this book. But I would recommend everyone to read it. It doesn't matter what you believe in -- organic, vegan diet, Atkins diet, fast food, slow food, whatever -- because the book does not teach you what you eat. It simply allows you to eat with a conscious knowledge about this very primitive, innate, and unchangeable human behavior -- putting food in your mouth.