Book Review; The Omnivore's Dilemma

Source: It’s nearing the end of July, and we’ve finally found ourselves at the height of the Michigan summer. The air is thick with moisture and the heat is sweltering, prompting us to either hit the lakes or hide by our air conditioners during the hottest hours of the day. Whether you’re camping out on a boat or a couch, you need to stimulate some brain activity during this time. And no – watching "My Strange Addiction" or "Here Come Honey Boo Boo" doesn’t count.

You need a summer reading list. And although you can find some great pre-made lists, why not also take a suggestion from SHEI?

Think about some of your favorite summer activities - backyard barbeques, picnics on the lake, snacking at the booths during the art fair, or discovering new restaurants around Ann Arbor – and it becomes quite clear that almost all of our social interactions revolve around food.

But how much do we really know about what exactly it is that we put in our bodies? Believe it or not food, doesn’t actually come from the supermarket, just like electricity doesn’t originate in outlets. How can it be that we know so little about something so vital to our culture, and even more so to our survival? And why doesn't the matter ever cross our minds?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a book that contemplates some of these questions. Through personal endeavors to better understand the food we eat today and the occasional philosophical digression, Michael Pollen suggests a shift in our consumptive paradigm that could completely change the way people think about food. He is a journalist of admirable enthusiasm who documents his visits to a number of farms from every rung on the spectrum of food production. From visiting an industrial chicken processing plant,  a mass-producing organic farm, to working on the alternative Polyface grass farm that rotates its products with the seasons, Pollan captures the radical diversity of what we call the food industry, before ultimately learning how to grow, gather and hunt a meal for himself.



The thing is, he argues, that in recent years our country has found itself suffering from an “eating disorder.” Eating, the most simple and instinctual of our behaviors, has become a source of anxiety in the context of the American meal. Carbs or no carbs, non-fat or low-fat, Whole Foods or Meijers – these are the surreptitious questions that pick at us when we ask “what’s for dinner.”

It’s a topic we’re all familiar with; at the sight of such a book, many conjure images of a granola crunching hippie or a PETA activist proclaiming his despair with the human race for persecuting Mother Earth with industrialized farming. But you may be surprised to know that Pollan is himself in fact a meat eater. This is not a book designed to scare you into veganism, because we are, after all, omnivores. It is a collection of curiosities about why we eat what we eat, where it comes from, and what other options exist.

It’s about educating yourself; it encourages active decision-making when it comes to feeding yourself, rather than blindly reaching for the plastic wrapped TV dinner closest within reach at the supermarket.

So relax, this is the type of reading you can enjoy without questioning your values. So kick your feet up on the dock and sip on an ice tea while you read, this literature won’t attack you or your appetite. But it might prompt you to think a little harder about what to serve your guests for your next barbeque.