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.]

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16 thoughts on “Vacation Reading: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

  1. Reading ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’ now. Can’t wait to finish it. For a good fiction read, try ‘My Year of Meats’. Greta book about the food issue- specifically meat and the way it is raised. I love that you started the eating locally thing. I try and co-op in the summers, but it is tough to eat locally year round in long winters.

  2. This book was the start of my food conversion in many ways. I loved the book and it definitely started me eating more locally and that along with many other things also lead me to vegetarianism. I’ve been a vegetarian now since Jan 1 and I feel better than I have ever felt. I am amazed at the difference of putting whole clean foods in your body. The changes are noticeable and radical. I recommend this book to everyone!

  3. I liked reading In Defense of Food and I’ve been wanting to read this book….so thanks for the reminder to put it on my list!
    It really is satisfying to go out each day & harvest dinner from the garden, you have to try at least a small one next year! And chickens….well yeah the roosters can drive everyone crazy 😉
    But this week we got our first eggs !! My DS was so thrilled.

  4. I have as well as its quick quide book follow-up Food Rules. Transformative books. I hope they change the way the public thinks so much that we begin to regulate more the way our food is brought to us. It’s totally unhealthy. For our part, we have tried to revise our eating. We get our veggies from the local CSA, don’t eat processed foods (too much) and limit our meat intake…when we do get meat, we try to get it from the local butcher, but that isn’t always convenient/possible.

  5. I borrowed the Young Reader’s version of the Omnivore’s Dilemma from a friend. Even though it was written for kids, I never felt like it was dumbed down in anyway. I really loved the book, and I should have my fourteen year old read it. It might change how he looks at sugar. I’m not entirely in agreement about Pollan’s conclusions about reducing the amount of meat we eat. I think very often all different types of meat gets lumped under the same umbrella. We are carnivores. We did start out human existence as hunters and gatherers. And, there is no standard human diet. We’re designed to eat 800 varieties of food, depending on where we are on earth.

    I am still struggling with making the eat locally and sustainably lifestyle work. It’s hard as a mom of five and all the hats I’m wearing now. But, I’ll keep working at it. Having the garden has helped enormously. Many people might not want such a big garden, but we have at least 40 tomato plants along with lots of other vegetables. I think we planted 10 lbs. of potatoes this year which is a bit much but next year I have another option for the potatoes.

  6. My husband was “lent” this book by a friend 2 years ago! He started to read it, but hasn’t touched ti it quite a while. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time either to read books-I get sleepy when I do sit down to read. But from following all of your research and reading your blog I just may take it from his desk and put it on my night stand! I do buy local as much as possible. We have a large vegetable garden in our yard, and we just filled 2 freezers with beef and pork raised here in Maine by friends of ours. I have stopped buying “cream of chemical” soups and make my own sauces now. Thank you for all your useful information!!!

  7. I started this book in April and am finally down to the last 70 pages or so. Around the time that I started the book, I watched Food, Inc. and was really shaken by what I learned. I decided to conduct an experiment by switching to whole/organic/mostly local shopping and eating for a six month period to see how it impacted us in ways of health, finance, conscience, etc. and then reevaluate at the beginning of October. In the meantime, I have read In Defense of Food and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. During that time, I also found your blog among many others to lend me support in my quest to change my family’s shopping-eating-living habits. I planted a vegetable garden for the first time, have completely changed how I cook and how we all eat, and have pretty much had my eyes opened to things I never gave a second thought to before. Without any activity changes, my husband and I have both lost weight and increased our energy levels, as well as really learning to appreciate the flavors of home grown and locally grown foods. Even though it’s not October, I can firmly say that there is no going back for this family. Even my kids are on board. They love the garden and have been very good sports as I experiment with new recipes and substitutes for their favorite snacks. It has changed our lives. Thanks for being a part of the New Improved Us!

  8. I read it this summer, and my favorite section was the same as yours. I LOVED the part about Polyface, and the incredible way the systems there worked together, just like God intended. (I tried to explain it to a couple of friends, but didn’t do it justice!). It’s definitely got me thinking about the way we eat. I’m so glad you mentioned it to us…it is very different from the kind of book that I normally read, but totally worth it. Thank you!

  9. Hey! I barely ever am blogging lately, but I came here to say that I saw your blog in the newspaper not long ago. How fun is that!:?

    I am interested in this book. This year we expanded our garden and I started buying only cage free eggs. We saw that Food Inc movie and it made us really think about this topic even more!

  10. The book is definitely life changing. I recommend it to everyone. I love your statement:Think about it, most of us spend more time researching our next TV than where our food comes from.

    So true and so sad!

  11. I was snooping around over here and right before my very eyes your blog design changed. Wow. Very weird. Not your blog design, just the way it happened. As for your blog design, I love it. The pictures are vibrant and relevant and your kiddos are adorable. You did good. =)

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