Last week (April 28 – May 2) was Baltimore Green Week so I read:
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
And am still reading:
Today I want to finish writing about The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Pollan makes it abundantly clear that his purpose in investigating the personal (hunted-gathered) food chain is purely philosophical. As Pollan writes, “there are far too many of us and not nearly enough of them” and we simply could not go back to the hunting and gathering lifestyle; it’s just impractical.
My favorite quote from the part is from Angelo Garro, a Sicilian and a friend of Pollan‘s, “You know, food in Sicily doesn’t come from the Safeway. It comes from the garden, it comes from nature.” And Pollan, speaking of Garro, continues,
So there are eels to catch for the traditional seven-fish dinner on Christmas Eve; chanterelles for hunt in January, wild fennel to gather in April, olives to pick and cure in August, grapes to harvest and crush in September; game to hunt and cure in October; and porcini to hunt after the first rains in November. Each of these rites is performed in the company of friends — and is accompanied by a good meal, homemade wine, and conversation.
When and how did American lose it’s culinary way? As I’ve mentioned before, my ethnic heritage is Chinese. And for my family, food continues to be central part of our gatherings. We don’t hunt, or forage, or even garden. But my mother would always buy fish at the local fish market and greens and other ingredients at the local market. Even today, we always enjoy sitting down for long, leisurely meals (often three hours long, and sometimes up to five or six hours long) filled with joyous (and sometimes intense) conversation and laughter. We eat to savor the flavors and appreciate the effort that has created each ingredient — as my father used to tell us children, you should think of each grain of rice as equivalent to a bead of sweat from the rice farmer who toiled to grow this. When we travel, we make it a point to eat local foods.
But back to The Omnivore’s Dilemma; I also really enjoyed Chapter 19 Gathering: The Fungi because mushrooms are quite possibly my favorite food! Cream of mushroom soup, polenta with ragout of wild mushrooms, savory mushroom pie, mushroom lasagna, sauteed mushrooms, you name the mushroom dish, I love to eat it.
I didn’t know that mushrooms were categorized by the material they grew on. Mycorrhizae (chanterells, morels, boletes, porcinis, etc) grow on live, old trees while saprophytes flourish on dead organic matter (common white button mushroom, shiitakes, cremini/Portobellos, oyster mushrooms, etc.).
This chapter was both interesting and humorous, particularly the mushroom hunting adages:
- “Seeing is boleting” – you never see any mushrooms until someone else has found one
- “Mushroom frustration” – when everyone around you is seeing them and you’re still blind
- “Mushroom virginity” – when you haven’t yet found a mushroom on a hunt
- “Cluster fuck” – when you’ve had luck finding mushrooms and other hunters crowd you hoping your luck will rub off on them
- “Screen saver” – after a day of mushroom hunting, you’ll close your eyes at night and still see mushrooms!
Pollan’s final meal, which he called “The Ominvore’s Thanksgiving,” consisted of:
Fava Bean Toasts and Sonoma Boar Pate
Egg Fettuccine with Power Fire Morels
Braised Leg and Grilled Loin of Wild Sonoma Pig
Wild East Bay Yeast Levain
Very Local Garden Salad
Fulton Street Bing Cherry Galette
Claremont Canyon Chamomile Tisane
2003 Angelo Carro Petite Syrah
Pollan‘s engaging, lucid, contemplative prose in The Omnivore’s Dilemma is simply astounding. I’ve read much of his writing since I am a faithful reader of the New York Times, but The Omnivore’s Dilemma did not fail to impress me.
I can’t wait to read In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto!
Click here to read an excerpt from the author’s website.
And click here to read Janet Maslin‘s review of In Defense of Food titled “Obsessed With Nutrition? That’s an Eating Disorder.”
From what I gather, In Defense of Food is an attack on nutritionism and food science: the idea that food is simply the sum of its parts (nutrients and calories), that the effects of individual nutrients can and are scientifically measured, that the primary purpose of eating is to obtain calories and nutrients and thus maintain health, and that eating requires expert advice.
I think In Defense of Food also expands on some of the ideas in Part III of The Omnivore’s Dilemma like the idea that “[C]uisines embody some of a culture’s accumulated wisdom about food” and that “when one culture imports another’s food species without importing the associated cuisine, and its embodied wisdom, they’ve made themselves sick.”
Also, I came across four books mentioned in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that I want to read:
- The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry
- Meditations on Hunting by Jose Ortega y. Gasset
- The Marriage of the Sun and Moon: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Consciousness by Andrew T. Weil
- Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi by David Arora
And lastly, in case you found this entry because you are reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma for a book club, here are some discussion questions for you to consider (courtesy of Borders Book Stores and the Sierra Club):
- What is the omnivore’s dilemma?
- How do we currently make food choices? Do we rely on cultural traditions to guide us?
- Pollan looks at the three food chains that sustain us: industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we hunt and gather. In industrial food, corn is king. Why is corn so important to the modern food industry? How often does corn show up in our daily diets?
- How do you as a consumer navigate the marketplace to find the healthiest food? How does this affect your food budget?
- What values do you want to support with your eating decisions?
- Which of the four meals Pollan describes–fast food, industrial organic, “beyond organic,” or entirely self-made–is closest to what you normally eat? Did you learn anything about how it’s made that surprised you? Will you make any changes in your eating habits as a result?
- “If nature won’t draw a line around human appetites, then human culture must step in,” Pollan writes. Are there certain foods you won’t eat for moral, philosophical, or environmental reasons? If so, when and why did you decide to stop eating them?
- Pollan believes that Americans are particularly subject to food fads and anxieties because we have “no strong, stable culinary tradition to guide us.” What are your family or community traditions, if any, and how do they (or the lack of them) affect your relationship with food?
- Have you ever grown, fished, or hunted your own food? How does the experience of eating it compare to eating something from a grocery store or restaurant?
- Pollan writes that the pleasures of eating are “deepened by knowing.” Do you agree, or are there some things you’d rather not know about your food?
- “Even if the vegetarian is a more highly evolved human being,” Pollan writes, “it seems to me he has lost something along the way”–namely, his or her links to cultural and family traditions, history, and biology. What do you think?
- “Eating’s not a bad way to get to know a place,” Pollan writes. Describe a meal that deepened your understanding of a location you lived in or visited.
- “Is an industrial organic food chain finally a contradiction in terms?” Pollan asks, deciding that it is. Do you agree?