December Book Review

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

You might think this a strange pick for me to read. Well, that’s because I didn’t pick it. My offspring did, he chose it for the English class book group project. This meant that he had to ask an over 18-yr old to also read it and come with him to book group night to talk about it. 

The book is not for the faint of heart. Though the information in it regarding the state of food and food production in the US was not new to me, this was the first time I had all the information handily compiled in one book. And some of it can be tough to chew on, let alone digest (pardon the pun).

The writing is compelling and I applaud the author for his courage in actually visiting a feed lot and staring into the eyes of a cow wallowing in the misery that has become its existence. Cows should be enjoying a healthy pasture, not stand ankle-deep in their own waste, pumped full of chemicals, trying to digest a grain they’re evolutionarily unsuited to do. Corn may have been clever in how it seduced the human grower into making it the super-crop it is today, but that still does not make it suitable food for most mammals, or farmed fish.

The book is painstakingly researched and detailed in its descriptions of all four meals Michael Pollan traces. He is clearly a man who enjoys food and gives thought to what he eats and what he feeds his family. The omnivore’s dilemma is that just because we are by nature able to eat anything, does not mean everything is good for us.  Or that we should eat everything. 

The one thing I didn’t like about the book, aside from the fact that some of the information is depressing to contemplate, is the fact that the author has a tendency to repeat himself. Often referring back to previously given information as if we might forget. The further the book went along, the more often he referred back to what he’d already said. 

Fast forward to book night:
The commons of the high school were filled with the pleasant hum of conversation, the coffee, tea and juice flowed freely - though some parents voiced a preference for something stronger - and after a short while we all took our seats to get instructions from the teacher. It was nice to see so many parents involved in this with their kids. 

After our instructions we met up with the group that had read the same book (there were 15 to choose from) and headed to one of the empty classrooms. There we talked about the book, discussing questions the students had come up with while reading the book. It was interesting to note the different perspectives between adults and teens on various matters. But in the end, the book had given all of us pause and made us more aware of our food choices going forward. 

And who knew that ‘free-range’ eggs only meant that there’s a small door open in the chicken house but that the chickens are not encouraged to go out at all. For true ‘free range’ look for pasture raised. Guess I did learn something new. 

In the spring, the class will hold another book night, but this time with fiction books. I hope there will be some good ones to choose from again. Stay tuned.