October 16th, 2007

reading, activism, writing

Book # 41: The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

A golden river of kernels runs from Iowa's corn fields, through filthy feed lots, into cows not evolutionarily able to digest it, and also into huge factories designed to extract every single molecule and transform it into various food additives. Michael Pollan follows that corn around the country as it fattens almost everything it its path, from cows who swell to slaughter weight in an unprecedented fifteen months, to the bank accounts of everyone involved (except the farmers who grew it), and into American bellies, where it is one of the building blocks of the obesity disaster.

As he chases four different meals, from sun to earth to plant to animal to market to plate, Pollan lifts the curtain on one of humanity's open secrets, how food is produced. And a fascinating peak backstage it is.

While he doesn't linger on the lives of the people who produce the food, as Upton Sinclair did in The Jungle, his book is no less startling, disturbing, or enlightening. It is a reckoning of how food production has been transformed from small farms to gigantic agribusinesses. And how the hidden costs of cheap food (like the petro-dollars involved in production, the fertilizer runoff that contaminates water sources, and the feedlot's unusable liquid manure that must go somewhere) eventually adds up.

Because the meals he follows are from four distinct food sources: industrial food production, industrial organic farms, "beyond organic" pastoral growers, and hunting/gathering communities, Pollan reveals the social impact of humanity's willful ignorance.

This book may not turn anyone into a vegetarian, but food on a plate may never look the same.