Beginning with the simple question of what to eat for dinner, in the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan launches into an analysis of his relationship to food and the multiple incarnations of the American food industry. Set up almost like a diary of this inquisitive, personal experience, or project, Pollan’s first adventure is with industrialized food, his second with organic food, and his last with what, while some folks call it “slow food”, one could call pre-industrial food.
Pollan is smart. Each chapter will impart upon the reader a bunch of information about aspects of the food economy that the reader most likely never knew; interesting facts about nutrition and industry; as well as new ways of intellectualizing one of our most quotidian processes – eating.
Of all the sections, I found his discussion of the corn-based food system in the United States to be most enlightening. Mostly, this was because it seemed to directly answer my curiosities about food that I have not, through my passive relationship with the food I eat, cultivated into questions. Yet, I do think (though one could argue it would require a whole other book) that a more in depth look the direct relationship between the corn-based industrial food system and many American social issues – such as food deserts, poverty cycles, and even crime – would have made his work slightly more poignant and a stronger tool in politics of food-activism.
The section on organics and his interest in “pastoralism”, or sustainable agriculture, was necessary and I entirely understand his fascination and his admiration for this small movement. However, seeing as it immediately followed his section on industrialized food, I couldn’t help but feel that some questions about how this new system could be put into practice went unanswered. Perhaps this is because no-one yet knows how to take this system and apply it to our economy at this point in time. However, I couldn’t help but feel, at times, that Pollan’s critique of industrial food systems and preference for pastoralism is founded on a bias against industrialism and international economics in its contemporary form as petrol-dependent.
Overall, the Omnivore’s Dilemma is a great read and it has opened a whole new field of interest for me. Since Pollan, I have wanted to read more about food and I have certainly become more interested in food-problems both in America and on a more global scale. Some questions that arise have to do with food supply, famine, entitlement, how food goes from comestible essential to commodity, ecology, urban farming, etc. etc. etc. In other words, the Omnivore’s Dilemma has, in a way, sparked my interest and inspired me to learn more.