I have a bad habit of starting a book, getting halfway through, and then abandoning it for a new, shiny book before I’m finished. I just picked this book back up after about a couple of month’s hiatus and finished it within a week. It turned out to be fascinating and I’m still ruminating (pun intended, I guess) on exactly how it will change the way I eat. In it, Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) tackles the somewhat harrowing task of following four very different meals back to their origins. Along the way, he uncovers for us exactly what we are eating, what what we are eating is eating, and how we are treating what we are eating.
The meals progress from heavily-processed, impersonal, practically unrecognizable food (hello, McDonald’s), to a meal that the author actually hunts, gathers, grows and cooks (almost) entirely by himself.
While I wasn’t surprised to learn that it is virtually impossible to track down the exact origin of the beef or chicken in your value meal, learning about the conditions in which the animals are raised was certainly eye-opening. Michael Pollan is not a vegetarian, but he does set out some of the ethical difficulties with eating meat in this day + age — specifically the mass-produced meat that comprises the majority of what you find in any supermarket or restaurant today. He allows the reader to come to his own conclusions as far as the answer to this “dilemma,” but a happy medium does seem to be found in his third meal — he works for a time at Polyvore Farms, an organic farm that raises chickens, cows, and pigs. The process that Joel Salatin, the owner of the farm, has developed is so completely natural, efficient, and humane that it stood in stark contrast to what I had just read about the “killing floors” at the industrial meat-processing plants.
(The second meal was an organic meal bought at Whole Foods, and disappointingly, his discoveries about the origins of those foods were not much more encouraging than the fast-food meal.)
His last effort was certainly the “purest” meal of the bunch, but he admitted it was impractical for most people and not a viable model for modern-day living and eating. (It’s also the most entertaining section of the book, as the decidedly domesticated author picks up a gun for the first time and sits in the woods for a few days, trying to work up the guts to shoot a wild pig.)
While I got a little bogged down in the middle of the book, somewhere amidst all the facts about corn and its thousands of iterations in the supermarket (hence my long book-intermission), overall I thought his findings were fascinating. Much of the information in the book was surprising to me, and even appalling at times.
Michael Pollan has done a lot to bring about widespread awareness and interest in exactly where the food we are eating comes from. He points out that we would never just buy a car because it’s the cheapest we could find … so why are we doing that with our food? I was certainly challenged to amend some of my thinking about the way our family shops and eats. This post is getting long, so I’ll have to save my thoughts on the new personal/family food policies I want to implement for another entry. In closing, if you’re at all interested in food (and who isn’t??) I’d recommend this book.
But you don’t have to take MY word for it… do-do-DO!