Having read (and enjoyed) In Defence of Food, I thought I knew what I was getting into with The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I expected more information on the food chain and making good eating choices. I got all of that, but I also got a good deal more philosophizing than I expected.
Really, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is three books in one. The first is a look at the industrial food complex. This is the part that I found the most interesting. Why is the US seemingly addicted to corn and why won’t it detox, even in the face of mounting evidence that it is killing us? I enjoyed the interweaving of the politics and economics of how things got to this point (thank you Mr. Nixon) and how the system keeps perpetuating itself. Cheap food is costing us dearly, but the pain of making necessary changes is daunting. It’s unlikely anything will change, particularly with Iowa being the key primary state that it is. It’s up to consumers to make their own changes.
The second part is a look at a family farm run on very particular principles of sustainability. The contrast to the farms in part one could not be harsher. One farmer basing his philosophy around grass and the cycle of animals, wildlife, other plants and environment to create and all but self-contained system.
The third part was when Pollan started to lose me. It was supposed to be about a more ‘hunter-gatherer’ approach to food. Hunting for meat, gathering mushrooms and the like. All of that is in there, but it was smothered by Pollan’s internal struggle about whether we should kill animals for meat and how we justify that to ourselves. I was unprepared for the depth of the philosophy and ethics involved. I’m not sure I agree with him, but he certainly presented the breadth of the arguments in both directions.
I had made a good amount of changes to how I eat after reading In Defense of Food, so I don’t think Dilemma had the lifestyle impact on me that it would on someone new to the subject. However, it did pile on information, particularly about organic versus conventional farming.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about where their food comes from (and to those with their heads in the sand on the subject) and to those intrigued by the politics of food. Now that I have a better idea about the US system, I’m interested to know how other countries compare. Having lived in both Canada and the UK, I’m fairly certain that both countries have tighter regulations on the farming industry (milk tastes different from US milk), but I’m sure both have their own issues (*cough* horse meat).
If ever you’ve wondered how obscure regulations dealt with behind closed doors impact your life, this is the book to read!