The Omnivore’s Dilemma was an interesting read. Michael Pollan is an engaging writer who takes the reader on an interesting journey through the food chain. A friend of mine from high school called the book “transformative.” Informative, for sure, but transformative? No.
Pollan provides an inside look into the corn-rich diet in America first by looking at the many ways corn has morphed from being a crop into a commodity. After discussing the corn-industrial food chain, he looks at the organic chain and the forager-hunter chain.
The abnormal approach to food taken by large industry is frightening. I’m not typically a food Nazi and I do not eat organic all the time (I don’t make that much money). What I do, however, is make food decisions that will promote optimal health. I do not eat a lot of sweets, I avoid processed foods, I stay away from high-fat products. Thus it seems only natural that I would stay away from meat that comes from a cow fed an unnatural diet who only remained healthy enough to make it to slaughter by being fed with various chemicals mixed in the feed.
The other food chains Pollan describes are far more complex both in their operation and their ability to survive in our culture. He takes a deep look at the organic-industrial food chain embodied by Whole Foods and asks whether it is really any better than the highly processed corn-food chain above. The answer is no. The organic food chain is just an industrial food chain in different clothing pandering to the masses.
True organic, as in the farm Pollan visits in Virginia, is less a food chain than a foo
d cycle. There, the symbiosis of nature shines forth in the quality of the food, and the quality of life of the animals. From a pure foodie standpoint, this is the way to go–better taste, better quality, and working with a farmer who understands and loves his trade. But in our mass-produced, immediate gratification culture, such small farms may become extinct soon enough.
The forager’s chain was an extended discussion of firsts: Pollan’s first time hunting, his first time gathering mushrooms, etc. It was also a lesson in how far technology has developed the way we eat. Instead of killing our food and dragging it home (or going hungry), we need only to go to the grocery store and pick up a ready-made meal to pop in the microwave. We’ve come a long way, but I’m not convinced it is the right way.
Another book, closely related to the Omnivore’s Dilemma, that was influential in my conservative thinking is Crunchy Cons. Dreher’s book describes a riff on the conservative movement that is very appealing to me. After reading it, I told my wife that there is finally a label for us. Don’t get me wrong, not everything in Dreher’s work appeals to or describes me. Much of it, however, speaks to something conservatism has lost.
Dreher and Pollan both ask us to re-think the way we interact with the world. This is not a nature-loving, tree-hugging moment, but a serious inquiry into man and the world. If the Bible says that we are to have dominion over the world, what kind of caretakers will we be?
How we act shows forth who and what we are. If we are conservatives, it stands to reason that we should be in favor of conserving the goodness and abundance we’ve been given. Books like these could be highly influential in conservative circles as we strive to develop a coherent environmental policy for 2012 and beyond. The only trick is getting people to read them.