The Omnivore’s Dilemma may start off with a simple question – what should we have for dinner? – but the answer is impressively complicated. Michael Pollan’s masterwork is an examination of humans’ dietary dilemma, addressing food as cultural significant and increasing food availability as problematic. The Omnivore’s Dilemma stands as an interesting and though-provoking piece that will have American reevaluating their method of selective eating.
Pollan’s text mainly focuses on analyzing the problem of human, omnivorous eating by examining the various food chains that support mankind’s diet. According to Pollan, there are three main ways that humans now acquire food. The first, and most popular form in modern society today, is industrial. Interestingly, the industrial food chain begins with corn. Corn can be used in a variety of ways, such as livestock feed or as a wide-reaching product (like high-fructose corn syrup). In fact, corn is now the basic, fundamental ingredient to nearly all widely produced food products. With the advancement of scientific harvesting tools and efficient transportation systems, large quantities of meat, grains and other foods can be produced, packaged and sold across the United States. However, though this type of food production creates large and easily attainable food quantities, it proves to be environmentally unhealthy. Livestock fed on unnatural corn-based diets end up for unhealthier than those raised naturally. At the same time, pesticide use and laboratory-refined products are leading to health and nutrition problems. Though efficient, the industrial food chain has many drawbacks.
The other food chains identified by Pollan are pastoral and personal. Pastoral food production is based in the organic farming ideology. The basic assumption is that organic farms will not use the same industrial tools and harmful practices as industrial food producers – but this is often not the case. In fact, the idea of organic food works more to alleviate the guilt Americas feel when eating food produced on an unhealthy, industrial scale – rather than actually providing better, cleaner-produced foodstuffs. The last food chain, personal, required Pollan to hunt and find food for himself. This was difficult to sustain for long periods of time, but otherwise Pollan concluded it as a good practice – if only to avoid unnatural material and regulate animal populations. Ultimately, Pollan decides that humans should one day seek to eat ‘by the grace of nature’ once again – but he understands such a day will be a long time in coming.
The result of these competing food chains is an ongoing dilemma in American mindsets. Many people are at constant odds to choose between different types of food, such as ‘organic’ vs. ‘inorganic.’ In his riveting book, Pollan tackles this serious dilemma, and addresses why it has arisen in American society today.