Author: Michael Pollan
Rating: ** (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")
Audience: Adults, Young Adults
Well, I finally had to do it. I had to find out (5 years late) what all the buzz was about organic, sustainable, blah, blah, blah.
Actually, I read Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser) some years ago and found it both convicting and a little alarmist. I also watched the features King Corn and SuperSize Me. So I am aware of some of the arguments against America's eating habits. I also work in health care, so I know the obesity and diabetes statistics.
What I appreciated about Michael Pollan's books (see also Food Rules for a Cliff's Notes version of Omnivore) is his thoroughness and practicality. He admits his own gradual journey toward healthier eating and doesn't judge people for coming to different conclusions. He doesn't expect people to become radical vegans, for instance, but encourages us to begin to educate ourselves about our food habits. He offers simple steps and options for people who want to make more informed eating choices.
The Omnivore's Dilemma divides food production into 4 groups: regular industrial farm production; organic industrial farming; local, sustainable farming; and self-production. Each of these options is explored in historic and current context and the reader can come to their own conclusion about how to implement each of these food production types into their family diet.
Most of us would agree "factory food" (as i like to call it) is our least desirable option. It's not going to go away any time soon, and probably has its place in some of our grocery shopping. A book like Omnivore's Dilemma will help you choose how much of your diet to devote to factory foods.
Pollan also tells the truth about "organic" foods. Many of these terms are defined by committees and government (lobbyists) so Pollan explains the gray areas. Terms like "free range" and "sustainably harvested" actually have no formal restriction or regulation, so companies may use them truthfully...or not! So Pollan tells the truth about both the factory option and the organic option. In all situations, caveat emptor!
Pollan is a big proponent of local, sustainable foods. This means getting to know your local producers and supporting them. "Sustainable" implies the local producer will put at least as much into the soil as they take out because they have a vested interest in maintaining their land. Conversely, corporate farming relies heavily on added fertilizers and pesticides to reap as much out of the soil as possible. For an interesting example of how local, sustainable farming (how farming was done pre-1920s, approximately) can work, take a look at www.polyfacefarms.com.
The final option is to try your hand at becoming your own hunter/gatherer! Families can decide how much of this to implement in their food choices. Most of us could plant a few rows in a garden (if you live in the suburbs, take a look at the size of your lot!), and some of us could even go fishing, or shoot a deer. Pollan validates these lifestyle choices.
It comes down to how convicted you are about food production policies in America and what you're willing to do about it for your family. Let me give you sort of a blunt, personal example: I am not a hippie living on a commune (and it's okay if you are) and I have serious concerns about the hygiene of some of our foods in the grocery store. For me, it's a little bit about the humane treatment of animals and it's a lot about the hygiene. Feedlots just aren't good for animals, or humans.
How will that change my behavior? Pollan suggests 3 guidelines in Food Rules: Eat Real Food; Mostly Plants; Not Too Much. Sounds manageable, doesn't it? In practice, I'm going to think a lot more about the 5-ingredient rule (eat foods with about 5 ingredients-foods your grandmother could recognize). We've already increased our fruits and vegetables. Next I'm going to order my own side of beef cut to specifics. Then I'm going to think about eggs and chickens. We're even considering joining a CSA: community sponsored agriculture group. For about $100 Rocky Ridge Ranch will provide families with 4-5 meats, eggs and produce each week. Not everyone can do that, but we might. (www.rockyridgeranchspokane.com)
If this interests you, there are plenty of options to begin your education process. (Two other books I am curious about but haven't read yet are Pollan's In Defense of Food and local pastor Craig Goodwin's Year of Plenty.) Then you can make your own informed choices about your family's food.
Leave a comment about your ideas!