Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

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

By Michael Pollan

©2006 Thomson Gale

This book blows my mind. Yes I have finally read Michael Pollan’s famous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I have been vegetarian and vegan in the past and my diet remains largely plant-based today as well. My forays into the meat/dairy world come from “Happy” foods: organically grown or raised, pasture-raised if applicable, wild if applicable. This turns out to be a good insurance policy for my health as well as my conscience, based on Pollan’s research, explicitly laid out in his book.

Some bits that were surprising to me: Salmon, carnivores by nature, have been reengineered to tolerate corn so that they can be fed said corn in salmon farms, just like the animals in cow, pig and chicken feed lots.

I have a vegan friend who has commented a few times that she is made of corn. It is not just vegans who are made of corn; it is all of us. Even if one eats shockingly little of plant foods one could still be mostly made up of molecules derived directly from corn! Conventional dairy is no exception, coming from animals grown or fattened on a corn-based diet. Another tid-bit Pollan shares: the wax on the English cucumbers in our North American grocery stores is usually made from corn. Go figure.

I was thoroughly distressed reading about how corn and cows are raised and the inexorable link between the two that I had to stop reading for a while. For extra information on how corn factors into our life, see the recent (2007) documentary King Corn. If you end up even remotely as distressed as I was, you may want to find yourself some pasture-raised/ wild meat sources or go vegetarian.

One man’s method of teaching Pollan about non-industrialized farming methods made a real impression; Pollan mentions no less than four times that Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia made him get down on his stomach to lay in and get to know the different types of grass on the farm. In order to raise his pasture animals, Salatin rotates them to a new section of grass every single day and the section they graze on any given day has been left to grow until a specific point, when it is at its most nutritious for the animals. The animals are moved to avoid overgrazing and overgrowing of the grass in any given section of the farm. If you are curious to learn about “grass farming”, Pollan’s book gives a great introduction. It is management-intensive but then, what modern corporation, organization or business venture is not?

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