If you remember the 1980s Wendy's commercial where three little elderly women ask "Where's the beef?" when referring to their lackluster hamburgers, then you may come to realize that the real question should be "Where does your beef come from?" after reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The book has been out for over three years. I admit: It took me a bit longer than most to read it. But after releasing "GET REAL" and STOP Dieting!, many individuals commented that my book is aligned quite closely with Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. So, I decided to read The Omnivore's Dilemma (it came before In Defense of Food) and will be embarking on In Defense of Food next.
Let me preface this review with the fact that I am wholeheartedly a meat lover. I am never going to be a vegetarian, a vegan or any other type of food eater that abstains from it. Yet, at the same time, I've always pretended to not know where my meat comes from. Why? I ALSO am an animal lover. Hence, my denial. After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, however, I have become acutely aware that where my meat comes from is more important than I ever wanted to admit.
The Omnivore's Dilemma isn't so much a nutrition book as an investigation into our food supply: where it comes from, what it really is and why we need to be so darn aware of it all. Half-way through the first chapter of the book, I found myself underlining passages, jotting notes and ear-marking pages...all with the hope of providing my readers with some "cliff-notes" of the thought provoking information shared. Before I knew it, I had almost every page underlined or folded over. You could say there is a LOT of fascinating information.
Admittedly, the book is a long read (400 pages), but if you can get through the first part (the book is 3 parts), you'll be too curious not to finish.
Pollan's book is centered around three journeys to create a meal: the industrial way, the organic way and the hunter-gatherer way.
- The Industrial Way: In short, this part of the book demonstrates how our food supply has become predominantly corn. Yes, corn. When we eat packaged foods...we are eating corn. When we eat fast foods...we are eating corn. And, maybe most surprisingly, when we eat beef...we are indeed...eating corn. Although most familiar to us, this way of producing food is by far the most eye-opening and disturbing. Pollan follows a bushel of corn from a a field in Iowa to its "ultimate destination in a fast-food meal." This is where we learn that the majority of beef we eat, is in actuality, corn. And, at the end of the chapter, we learn that a simple meal at McDonald's is once again, corn. So much so, that "78% of a milkshake, 56% of a chicken nugget, 52% of a cheeseburger and 23% of french fries" is corn.
- The Organic Way: In the second part of the book, Pollan takes us on two organic journeys: First, the Whole Foods way and the second, a "beyond organic" way. In this part of the book, you learn that the industrial/commercialization revolution of the food industry has caused us to take a step backwards in how we feed ourselves. It will make you think long and hard about what organic really means and how the USDA has evolved the term "organic" into one that is diluted and somewhat meaningless.
- The Hunter-Gatherer Way: In part three, Pollan creates a meal on his own, through hunting and gathering the ingredients himself. The point of this part of the book is to understand how we have lost "consciousness" of everything in feeding ourselves. This part of the book, in particular, has me now questioning "where does my beef come from?"
I can't recommend this book enough. Although a longer read than I would normally opt for, it was intensely captivating. And, if you are at all interested in your health and the food you put in your body, this book is a must.
Have you read The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals? What did you like or dislike most? Buy The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Here
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