The Omnivore’s Dilemma – A natural history of four meals

By: Michael Pollan
Penguin Books, 2006
$19.00, paperback

Michael Pollan  is now a well known writer, a contributing editor at The New York  Times Magazine and a professor of journalism at Berkeley. In his  fourth book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan explores three  food chain systems and the farm to table journey of four meals.  The first of the four meals is from a fast food restaurant; the  second is made from ingredients produced by big-industry organics;  the third is from an all-natural grass farm; and the fourth and  last meal, the most perfect one according to Pollan, is one that  he hunted, gathered and cooked himself, like our human ancestors  would have. Pollan’s premise is that many people lost their  joie de vivre for food, and have given up trying to figure out  what is good food for their body and the environment.

Pros

We found Pollan’s colourful writing to be a fascinating blend  of many disciplines especially agriculture and economics. His  visual image of nature and food make words come to life, and wonderful  to see in the minds’ eye. Readers will be updated on the  latest marketing terms such as organic, organic industrial and  free range. Pollan exposes myths and reinforces the cultural heritage  and food wisdom of past generations. We liked Pollan’s message  about the importance of understanding the seasonality of food  and the need to know more about the origin of our food. Through  the food and land connection he sheds light on a growing consumer  trend from organic to local and fresh. After reading this book  we have new questions to ask when we’re buying food.

Cons

As the stories of the four meals are told, at times it seems the  narrative goes off topic and it takes a long time to get to the  point. Some insights may cause readers to fear mass food production,  and leave them uncertain about what to do. The foods Pollan has  chosen for his preferred meals are not readily available to all  Canadians. As well, not all US farming practices and issues described  in the book apply to Canadian agriculture. There is an element  of fear mongering in this book that does not agree with our understanding  of the Canadian food supply, and may undermine Canadians’  confidence in eating a well balanced affordable diet. Although Pollan consulted many knowledgeable experts, and cited scientific  studies, we noticed the glaring absence of any health professional  reviewers such as dietitians, nutritionists or physicians.

Bottom Line

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a powerful, well researched  book and unlike any other we have read to date. It offers a unique  perspective on food science that is not warm and fuzzy, and at  times made us feel helpless. Pollan revealed the ‘inconvenient  truth’ but hasn’t provided any practical options for readers.  Food lovers would enjoy reading the book for its visual, slow  read. No reader will miss the importance of the food and land  connections for our bodies and the environment and all will become  more knowledgeable about what it takes to get food from the farm  to our table.

After all of this however, we were left wondering how to implement any practical  changes to families’ food habits. Pollan’s sequel In Defense  of Food may present some answers, and our review of this new book  will be posted soon.

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