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The Omnivore’s Dilemma

February 11, 2007

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

by Michael Pollan

Alright, I know I am a bit late to the parade on this one but I guess I needed to read it at some point and that was early January. After all the praise and analysis I am not sure what I have that is so unique to add on the subject but I will try none the less. I guess one more review is nothing that will make this less of a best seller, it already is, but this is an important book with the “foodie” crowd and I thought I would address it.

 

One of the most important aspect of this book is its incredible vulgarization characteristics. Pollan did a lot of research for this book, read many important texts, talked to important and not so important people and nicely packaged that in a book that anybody with more than a passing interest about food can read. And because he writes with such a naive tone that everything seems so new to him that you feel like you are discovering things at the same as he does.

 

His journalistic approach to research is interesting but, in my opinion flawed. My biggest problem I have with the book is the fact that he bases his whole arguments on things he has seen once and a huge sample of one person he interviews. I understand that he is trying to make his point as clearly as possible and that it is a lot easier to relate to that one “Organic” farmer in Virginia as the truth but the reality is much different. The reality is that there is shades of gray and that one people’s truth is not necessarily the one. True enough, corn farming in Iowa probably follows a certain order that is well established, but apart from big farming like that, they are definitely a whole host of different realities.

 

He even freely admits that the farm “his” cow was born was a place where they seemed to care for the animals. They artificially inseminate dozens of cows with the same sperm all the time but they take good care of their breeders and good care of the calves. But that is overshadowed by the incredibly cruel treatment they get where they will get fat and be killed. The feces, the mud, the animal fat given to them in addition to all the medicines. This is disgusting. But is it the point? I understand the will to engage the reader in what he is seeing but the blurring between the editorial essay and the journalistic research and personal account on the matter bothers me a bit. Pollan changes his hat quite a bit and that is the real issue for me.

 

None the less, the information is nicely packaged and the book is thoroughly entertaining. I mean I whizzed through that volume in no time while only reading on my commutes. There is some significant information for anybody that wants to know how the big food industry works. There is also interesting facts about the big organic business, their practices and how it will be changing, probably for the worse, with its increased popularity.

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