Monthly Archives: November 2009

Omnivore’s Dilemma

Remember the Friends List of Five?  That’s the list of famous people you are allowed to boink  without reprisal from your partner, should any of them come a’knockin at your door.  The two permanent seats on my list are of course Harrison Ford and Will Smith, with regular guest appearance by Jason Bateman, O He of the Very Fine Posterior.  The other two slots are up for grabs.

Michael Pollan is so totally on that list right now.  Seriously, if this dude showed up at my front door, it would be mighty hard to turn him away.

I love his articles in the New York Times.   This man talks about food in such an ethical, respectful way.  Although I am a bit more extreme in my approach to Real Food than I was before I got on the Pollan Bus, I have always thought that food is better when it is simply food and not a clever mixture of artificial flavors.  (As an aside, I cannot fathom why people put sauce on asparagus.  That stuff tastes so damned good simply steamed – why the hell would anyone want to fuck with it?)

For my birthday, my in-laws sent several books, the most exciting of which is The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  In this book, Pollan follows four meals from their origins straight to his dinner plate: a McDonald’s concoction, an industrial organic meal, a locally produced, sustainable meal, and a meal that Pollan gathered completely for himself.  He does a phenomenal job weaving in science, history, economics and politics to explain why our food is produced the way it is and why that method of production is a health and environmental risk.  For example, did you realize that grass-fed beef is much less likely to have e-coli because something about feeding cows corn weakens their intestinal linings making it more probable that it will rip in slaughter?  The book is funny, fascinating, and always readable.

One of the most amusing moments is when he sits down to a big steak while reading a text on vegetarianism.  “Animal Liberation,” writes Pollan, “is one of those rare books that demands you either defend the way you live or change it.  Because singer is so skilled in argument, for many readers it is easier to change” (307).  The same could be said of Pollan’s book itself.  It makes you want to run out and buy some eggs from hens who ate cow poop.

The book’s major flaw is that his meals are not pure.  Sure, it is easy to get a meal completely from McDonald’s and another completely from Whole Foods.  He fails, however, to eat a completely local meal when he decides to make a chocolate soufflé in Virginia, citing some crap about chocolate being an exception because they don’t make it in Virginia.  Isn’t that kind of the point?  If it isn’t locally made, find something else to eat.  Not that I think anyone can live on completely local food unless her last name is Kingsolver, but if you are writing a book about it, you ought to be able to do it for just one meal.

He fails on his final meal, too.  It is supposed to be all foods he hunted, foraged, or grew himself.  He makes quite a to-do about gathering his own yeast from the air for the bread, yet he never tells us how he managed to grow and mill his own flour, leaving me wondering if maybe he picked that up at the Stop & Shop.  He also mentions, during the cooking of his precious foraged mushrooms, dumping in an entire stick of butter.  Presumably he did not milk that cow, churn that butter, and then form it into a stick neatly wrapped in wax paper.  Again, it’s not that I think he ought to eat all food he produced himself, but is it too much to ask that he stick to the rules of his own game?

Nonetheless, this book is fantastic.  It is a compelling argument for doing one’s best to eat locally produced food that has been sustainably raised.  I am unabashedly a Michael Pollan groupie, and I am more than happy to admit that he had me at “Hello.”