Book Review: Omnivore’s Dilemma

You Are What You Eat.

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


For humans, the decision of what to eat is one we make several times a day. It can be the cause of great stress or one of great pleasure. For many other creatures the decision is a simple one. That is why people are constantly faced with the Omnivore’s Dilemma. Over the course of his book, The Omnivore’s  Dilemma, Micheal Pollan dines on 4 meals, each of which he traces meticulously back to its roots. There is the token fast food meal, the dinner of organic food purchased at Whole Foods, the farm meal on a small-scale sustainably and holistically run farm on which he worked for a week, and finally the hunter-gatherer meal consisting almost entirely of ingredients Pollan either collected or killed himself.

omnivores-dilemma1In our time-strapped culture the temptation to resort to cheap, fast and easy food is huge. We cut our food bills to support our cell phone, television and high speed internet needs, assuming that a dollar saved by shopping at the discount chain doesn’t affect anyone but our bottom line. Meanwhile, the cost of the externalities of that food on our environment and the ethical implications, especially with livestock, can be enormous. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma we go behind the scenes to see where much of our food is coming from. 

The first part of the book is focused on corn. The USA produces such an astounding amount of corn – far more than is in demand – food scientists have been working furiously to find new and innovative ways to make us eat more corn. For example, resistant starch can be eaten without any digestion occurring. Meaning, we could actually consume more food than ever before and won’t be limited by our body’s pesky limitation of only being able to take in a limited amount of food every day. 

The second meal, purchased entirely at the large organic retailer Whole Foods, shows the large-scale industrial organic industry.  Tracing back to the roots of the organic food movement, it shows how, in the effort to streamline and create a more efficient industry, much of the original ideal has been lost.

The third meal was my favorite part of the book. Pollan goes to see a farmer named Joel Salatin who runs a farm in Virginia. The techniques he uses to create synergies among the land and animals to avoid needing antibiotics, pesticides and fertilizers were fascinating. After seeing industrial production at its “finest”, this small-scale farm was a refreshing breath of fresh air.

The final meal, composed almost entirely of ingredients Pollan either collected, grew or hunted himself, discusses the ethics of hunting as well as the loss of local knowledge that makes gathering food from the wild a slightly unnerving proposal.

Many people prefer to look the other way when it comes to the facts about food production, but for those who want to stare the ugly facts in the face and then choose to do something about it, this is the book for you.

Erika Anderson is always happy to be able to tell you about her favourite reads. She is an Aries and was born in the year of the Monkey.