An Omnivore's Dilemma
I just finished reading Michael Pollan's, An Omnivore's Dilemma. I loved it. I haven't read any of his previous works, but I once attended a reading he gave from his book The Botany of Desire. I had first read select exerpts from his latest book in an issue of an environmental magazine (although, I'm sorry to say I don't remember which one...)
In some reviews I've read, An Omnivore's Dilemma has been compared to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. I can see the similarities as Pollan tries to track a meal (multiple meals) through to its origins - the farm, the forest, the factory. Pollan's trek is more personal than Schlosser's. Pollan breaks down some of the arguments or struggles surrounding food that I believe many of us deal with. Organic or non-organic? Polyculture or monoculture? Vegetarian or carnivore? He delves into the history of the systems involved in the biology and science of natural processes - food chains, evolution, insticts - and how humans have intervened by domesticating crops and animals for our purposes (or as he suggests, how corn and grasses have perhaps manipulated us.)
A review in The New York Times isn't that favorable, in which the reviewer is perplexed about what to do to solve this food dilemma Americans are faced with, and calls Pollan "too nice" of a writer (comparing him again, to Schlosser who by default gets the "not so nice" end of the comparison). I don't think the reviewer really got the point (and makes me wonder if he actually read the whole thing.). Pollan wasn't out to take down the agriculture industry, he was looking for answers to the "which is better?" question, and set out to explore how Americans and our ways of marketing and processing food have gotten us, well, fat. (Grist's David Roberts has a great Q&A interview with Pollan.)
The journey of the book begins with corn. It has only been since the second half of the 20th century that farms became bigger, and monoculture took over, as did the current conditions of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Pollan contrasts these things with a polyculture farm in Virginia, where animals and crops are raised and rotated based on a calculated and successful recreation of natural processes. Then he takes off on his own as a hunter/forager in the lands of northern California on yet another quest for answers to what might be unanswerable questions.
I don't know that An Omnivore's Dilemma actually answers any of the questions Pollan raises - or rather answers that the NY Times reviewer was looking for - but it does give readers the information to come up with answers on their own based on Pollan's research and experiences. And he definitely comes to some conclusions of his own (you should read it to see if you agree.)
I found the book to be an insightful and enjoyable journey through the ethical dilemmas and human conscience from farm to table and back again.