The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

Since last week (April 28 – May 2) was Baltimore Green Week, I’ve been reading:

Click here to read my post about my intention to read these books.

I plan to write a bit about all three of these books, but today I’ll start with The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was initially more excited to read Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. I actually heard about The Omnivore’s Dilemma only after I had heard about In Defense of Food.

Still, despite my initial wariness to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma first, I am enjoying it!

It has made me even more excited to read Pollan’s In Defense of Food and Gary Paul Nabhan‘s Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods!

So far, I’ve only read Part I (Industrial Corn) which teaches us about how corn is absolutely the # 1 source of American’s calories. Very creepy.

I’ve tried my best to avoid products containing corn syrup for years, but I had no idea that citric acid, lactic acid, glucose, fructose, malodextrin, ethanol, sorbitol, manitol, xanthan gum, dextrins, and monosodium glutamate (among many other common ingredients) are corn-processed additives!

And people have made such a big deal lately of American consumption of gas, while focusing on gasoline used by cars. Well imagine my surprise to learn that one-fifth (20%) of America’s petroleum consumption goes towards producing and transporting our food! As I understand it, about 40% of our petroleum consumption goes into cars.

The grossest part of the book so far was learning that they feed cattle (herbivores by nature) feather meal, chicken litter (bedding, feces, leftover food), beef tallow and other cattle parts, and chicken, fish, and pig meal in addition to corn. Yes our cattle eat cattle. And sadly so much of a cattle’s diet comes from corn these days (too much starch and not enough fiber) that the poor animals get sick from the build-up of gas and foamy slime in their stomachs and from the unnatural acidic stomach (cow’s stomachs are usually pH netural or pH 7 , the pH of an acid is below 7, above 7 is basic) also due to a high corn diet. Not to mention that cattle live in “feedlot dust” which is cattle feces. No wonder they need high does of antibiotics to stay alive until slaughter!

There’s much more to be said about just Part I (Industrial Corn) of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. For example, Pollan provides us with the number of gallons of oil it takes to grow one acre of corn (that’s 50+ gallons), why we use so much fertilizer (produced by retrofitted World War II plants no longer producing explosives but using the same basic material – ammonium nitrate), the cost difference between growing corn and selling corn (in 2005 it cost over $1 more per bushel to grow corn than you would get selling it), the big businesses’ hands in corn (Cargill and ADM — Archer Daniels Midland — buy one-third of American corn), why processed food companies love corn (it’s cheap and as on food executive supposedly once said, “There’s money to be made in food, unless you’re trying to grow it”), and much more.

Not surprisingly, the meal derived from the industrial / factory farm / Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) food chain that Pollan chooses to eat is one from McDonald’s. One third of American children eat fast food every day and 19% of American meals are eaten in the car! And eye-opening for me — a self-described Chicken McNuggets fanatic — thirteen out of the thirty eight ingredients that comprise a McNugget are derived from corn. And two of them are known toxins in large quantities — dimethylpolysiloxene is a mutagen (possibly cancer causing) and tertiary butyl hydroquinone. Ick!

I highly recommend this book and look forward to finishing Part II (Pastoral Grass) and Part III (Personal: The Forest).


6 responses to “The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

  1. So glad to read your thoughts on this one. I rarely buy brand new books, but I invested in this one recently, and I can’t wait to read it. I’m sure I’ll have lots to post on both my blogs (one of which is an environmental blog) about this reading.

    Love your blog! I’ll definitely be back. OH, and I found you through Weekly Geeks. :)

  2. toujoursjacques

    This is such a great book, a landmark book, really. I am so glad you are enjoying it (if that’s the right word). I am a huge devotee of Pollan and have written a couple of posts on him, esp. relating to his recent article in the NY Times. But everything he’s written is good, timely, important, necessary. I’m eager to hear what you have to say about the rest of OD and Defense of Food. The other books on your Baltimore Green Week list are also really fine ones. Lucky you!
    Best, TJ

  3. Thanks for your kind words Estella!

    TJ, yes I too love Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is the first book of his that I have read, but I have read his frequent NYTimes articles for years. He’s really a fantastic writer!

    Have you read Deep Economy by chance? That’s the only one of the three I’m reading for Baltimore Green Week that I hadn’t heard much about beforehand.

  4. toujoursjacques

    Oh yes! And I’m sure you will love this book. Bill McKibben is someone else who just never disappoints. He makes such a strong case for re-thinking economy in local terms and puts the entity we are so fond of calling “the free market” –which is so often trusted with all things economic— exactly where it belongs, in the realm of myth and machination. I look forward to your thoughts.
    Excellent, excellent site. Thank you. TJ

  5. Pingback: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Part II (Pastoral Grass) « Adventures in Reading

  6. Pingback: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Part III (Personal: The Forest) « Adventures in Reading

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