The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
25/01/2013 The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
If you're trying to increase your understanding of the way the food system works, this is a must read.
Michael Pollan is a well respected food writer from the States.
In this book he uses the premise of searching for a 'perfect' meal to outline the dichotomies of the food system. The book is divided into three chapters - Corn, Grass and Forest.
In Corn, Pollan explores the industrial food system, looking at the frankly astonishing way that a narrow group of foodstuffs have come to dominate the food everyone eats. He also follows an intensively reared beef cow, to see how a standard hamburger is created.
In Grass, he investigates the industrialisation of 'organic' food, and compares it to genuinely alternative and sustainable food systems.
In Forest, Pollan forages, grows and hunts a meal and explores the issues in this shortest of food chains, and what this tells us about our current way of buying and eating food.
There were quite a few elements which stuck with me: The story of corn and how it has been artificially propped up by government and corporate interests to creep into almost every part of our lives; the beautifully synergistic systems one farmer uses to make sustainable farming pay dividends - including a frankly ingenious winter cow barn and a chicken and cowpat rotation system; that you can buy a military grade assault weapon intended to kill the largest number of people in the shortest time without checks or waiting, but Pollan had to take a 14 hour class and exam to be allowed to use a rifle for hunting boar.
Pollan's talent for storytelling and the structure of the book makes it very easy to read and take in the startling and disheartening factual issues he wishes to communicate.
Most of the book is based in the USA, but UK readers will find most of the same issues apply to them. The EU has happily curbed some of the worse excesses of animal exploitation described in the book, but some of the more mega-sized US style systems are now creeping into the UK and consumers here would be well advised to understand their implications before allowing them to sneak up unchallenged.
Well worth a read if you care about where food comes from and wish to know more about how the food system has developed to be the way it is.
You can find more from Michael Pollan at his website.
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