The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan


Four stars, read in 2010.

I loved this book. I gave it five stars originally, back when the whole “slow food” movement was a lot more important to me, but now that my overzealous passion has died down . . . Well, anyway. It took me forever to read—something like two or three months, I don’t even know more accurately than that—but it wasn’t because I wasn’t thoroughly enjoying it. I think it even beat out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is by one of my all-time favorite authors.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma follows three food chains from beginning to end, starting with where the food is grown and ending in a meal eaten by the author. First is the industrial food chain, which ends with a meal from McDonald’s eaten in the car while driving. This section reads pretty much the same as Fast Food Nation.

The second food chain is organic, and it’s really two separate ones: what Pollan calls big organic (like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s), and pastoral organic, which is food that is all grown on a farm he visits for about a week. Interestingly, the big organic section felt a lot like the industrial section, which I think says something about the actual usefulness of that food system. What I really loved was the pastoral, in which Pollan explains the intricate dynamics of the organic farm he was visiting, and the countless ways that nature works to create a truly impressive food system.

The last food chain is the hunter-gatherer, in which the author hunts, forages, and grows everything for his meal himself. This part was fascinating, in large part because I have exactly zero experience with any of those things.

If I were to read it again, I would probably start in the middle and read through the pastoral and the hunter-gatherer food chains. These were the parts that had me absolutely enthralled, and were so different from anything else I’ve read.


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