Vacation Reading: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I want to post another book review from my summer vacation reading. (I may just finish up this series before school starts.) Even though I started reading this book months ago, I’m going to include The Omnivore’s Dilemma in my Vacation Reading series because I finished it while I was in Maine. And because it is the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. I even liked it more than In Defense of Food, which is the book that opened my eyes to the unhealthiness of the standard American diet.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is the book that inspired my dedication to eating local food and starting Eat Local Philly — a resource for local food producers in my area.

In this book, Michael Pollan, a journalist and professor, sets out to answer the simple question, what should we eat?  He examines the origins of our foods by tracing four meals back to their sources.

The first meal he buys at McDonalds, which, appropriately, he and his family consume in their car.  During this section, he researches industrial farming and discusses its effects on our health and the environment.

He cooks the second meal from food he buys at Whole Foods, and he discusses the rise of the organic movement, specifically the pros and cons of the “big organic” phenomenon.

He cooks the third meal with ingredients from a small sustainable Virginia farm, where he spends a week helping to raise and harvest the food he prepares.  In this section, the owner of Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin, demonstrates the natural cycle of farming where all plants and animals basically feed off one another in a beautiful harmonious rotation that produces no waste and no toxins.  This is my favorite section of the book, the one where I developed my passion for buying my food locally.

Finally, he prepares the fourth meal from things he has hunted and foraged in the wild.

These four stories are woven with facts and Pollan’s self-discovery.  He has a way of writing with humor and thoughtfulness that makes you think but doesn’t preach or put you on the defensive.  He ponders his discoveries and draws conclusions from what he learns without trying to evangelize, which is why I think his books have made such an impact on the way our society is suddenly thinking and talking about the food we eat.

I have joked along the way that this book should be required reading for every American who eats, and I found out that it actually is on many college reading lists this summer.  WOOT!  I know it’s not exactly classic literature, but it is well researched and well written, and isn’t what we eat an integral part of our daily life?  I find it perplexing that we as a society give so much thought and effort to the kind of cars we buy and which clothes we wear and how we educate our children and yet so little thought to the food we nourish our bodies with.  Think about it, most of us spend more time researching our next TV than where our food comes from, she says as she steps delicately off her soap box.

For me, the book was eye opening and intriguing, although I knew a lot of the facts already.  It definitely has inspired me to continue eating whole, real food as much as possible, and to get that food as close to home as is reasonable.

No, I’m not growing chickens in my back yard (although I might if I thought the neighbors wouldn’t lynch me) but I may start growing a garden, and I’m definitely taking advantage of the resources I have nearby for local, homegrown foods.

Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma?  Has it changed the way you think about food or the way you feed your family?  If so, I’m curious to hear about it.

If you’re interested in knowing more about whole foods and how to eat a more traditional diet, I have a page of resources on my nav bar.  You can also read what I jokingly call My Whole Foods Conversion Story, which is peppered with links to various posts I wrote along my journey.

[Disclosure #1: All links to are affiliate links.]

[Disclosure #2:  As a Chevrolet Road Tripper, I was provided with a Tahoe Hybrid, a full tank of gas, and a parking pass for my stay at the Hilton New York.  Oh yeah, and it came with a reusable bag full of water bottles, travel mugs, and assorted snacks for the road.  Fun, huh!?  I was not told what to say or post or even required to do so.]