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What's for dinner? The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Updated on March 31, 2015
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A long-time whole grain baker, Kathryn discovered the thrill and ease of cooking with whole, fresh foods decades ago. Still chopping!

In Omnivore's Dilemma, author Michael Pollan asks "What's for dinner?"

The answer may surprise you. It surely did me.

In Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan serves up four meals to family and friends, the first--fast food on the go, racing down the highway in a convertible, top down. The last meal--wild boar he shoots and dresses himself.

Between those two meals, Pollan gets up close and personal with all the ingredients in each of his four dinners, including his meat, on the hoof and off. Where does it come from? What's hidden in the foods he's serving to the people he loves most?

Omnivore's Dilemma reads like a novel, and like any good novel raised the hairs on the back of my neck, warmed the cockles of my heart and kept me thinking and talking about it for months.

If you care about your health and the health of your family, if you care about the future of human kind on the planet, you must read Omnivore's Dilemma. This page zeroes in on Pollan's key points and encourages you to discuss your views.

Your opinions count. Join the fray!

photo credit: Alia Malley

An animal that eats both plants and other animals

— Webster's Online Dictionary
Koala
Koala | Source

What is the omnivore's dilemma, anyway?

Unlike the koala, who eats eucalyptus leaves and not much else, omnivores eat just about anything that won't kill us.

So our dilemma--we humans--has always been to remember what killed Joe and never eat that again, and what healed Emma, so we can use that again.

In an age where massive food recalls and death by food (spinach, peanut butter, and cantaloupe leap to mind) are increasingly commonplace, Pollan says:

One way to think about America's national eating disorder is as the return, with an almost atavistic vengeance, of the omnivore's dilemma.

The cornucopia of the American supermarket has thrown us back on a bewildering food landscape where we once again have to worry that some of those tasty-looking morsels might kill us. (Perhaps not as quickly as a poisonous mushroom, but just as surely.)

Koala; morgueFile free photo

We once again have to worry that some of those tasty-looking morsels might kill us

Meal One: Where does our food come from?

Pollan's quest begins with a convertible, a burger and Calf #534

It's Meal One, fast food in the fast lane, and Pollan's search for answers takes him from his home in Marin, California, to a cattle ranch in South Dakota where he buys calf #534. Trailing his very own meal-on-the-hoof, Pollan lands hock deep in Kansas feedlot muck next to his bulging, corn-fed steer just before it hits the slaughterhouse.

Once he saw where the most important ingredient came from, it's amazing Pollan was able to go home and buy that fast-food burger, fries and soda for his family, let alone roar joyfully down the freeway, wind whistling in his ears, but he did.

Meal two: Industrial organic for sale

Or, just how free is that chicken in the no-window cage?

For his second meal, which Pollan calls industrial organic, he visited a block-long chicken house and learned how cage-free chickens get the name. Hint: They're still in cages and not all that free. He dished that one up too, with lots of graphic information on the side.

Meal three: Home on the range

Just might be all it's cracked up to be

Farmer Joel Salatin doesn't ship his beef cross country, so Pollan couldn't serve his family the grass-fed beef he earned sloshing hogs and herding chickens and cows for a week on a Virginia grass farm. Luckily, Pollan had friends in the neighborhood who were more than happy to share a cooked-from-scratch, hand-raised, all-organic meal, as fresh off the farm as you can get it. Word was, it was delicious.

Meal four: Wild boar on the hoof, mushrooms in the rain

Yes, Virginia, it can be done, even in the richest county in the state

Back home in California, with equal gusto Pollan first stalked a wild boar in Marin County, then hunted down wild mushrooms on a rainy day in the Sierras. He served them up to his home crew with salad fixings and berries he'd foraged along the way, some in the countryside, and surprisingly, some in the city.

But that's just the meals. What Pollan learned about the growing, manufacturing and processing of our meat and potatoes along the way is the real story.

Get the rest of the story here

Would you be surprised to learn that corn and soybeans are in just about everything we eat these days? If it comes in a box, most likely it has corn or soybean derivatives in it. And if it has those, most likely, the corn and soybeans come from genetically modified seeds (GMO). No one but the company that manufactures them and its scientists know what's in those GMO seeds, not even the federal government that regulates agriculture and is supposed to assure our food is safe.

What's more, if it's meat or contains meat, very likely it's been fed that very same GMO corn and soybeans, along with an antibiotic cocktail that would knock the socks off an elephant.

In his search to learn what's in our food, Pollan takes us on a ride that feels like a roller coaster going down more than it goes up. Omnivore's Dilemma changed the way I eat. It just might change the way you eat too, and I can't help thinking that is a good thing.

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

What we eat is far more important politically and economically than many of us realize. If you care about the health of the planet, the health of your family, and your own health, read this book. Understand just how personal the political is, and why what you put on the dinner table is a political statement, sometimes a radical one, and a vote for or against your family's well-being and just possibly our survival as a species.

 

Have you read, or would you, Omnivore's Dilemma? - What do you think of Pollan's ideas about the food we eat?

How important is it for everyday people like you and me to know where our food comes from and what's in it? Do you buy into the notion, as we've seen from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Pollan and others, that our food choices may be killing us? What do you eat? And how much attention do you pay to what's in it?

What's for dinner at your house?

Rate Omnivore's Dilemma - Would you read it? Recommend it?

Omnivore's Dilemma book cover; photo credit: Alia Malley
Omnivore's Dilemma book cover; photo credit: Alia Malley

How do you feel about Omnivore's Dilemma?

On a scale of 1-8, what do you think of Omnivore's Dilemma, knowing what you now know?

See results

If you liked Omnivore's Dilemma, you may like this one too

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

We can escape the Western diet and its consequences. - Michael Pollan

Why would we want to? Aren't we the best fed people in the world? The fact is, science has shown again and again that our Western diet is killing us. Pollan, in his usual lively style, explains why, dropping one fact after another into our brains without skipping a beat and so deftly, we can't wait to learn why it's important and what's next.

 

I hope you enjoyed this page and participated in the debate. If you meant to but forgot, here's another chance.

© 2008 Kathryn Grace

Last chance to weigh in - Or just leave a friendly note

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    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      @smine27: It had a similar impact on me. in Defense of Food is on my long list of books to read. I look forward to your review. You are going to do a review here on Squidoo, aren't you?

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I remember reading this book about 5 years ago and it has changed the way I look at food forever. I am currently reading In Defense of Food.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      honestly if I read that I may never eat again! (I should read it) - a little bit of a weak stomach, but it sounds like I should eventually get to reading this

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      @TransplantedSoul: Thank you! I appreciate your reading it.

    • TransplantedSoul profile image

      TransplantedSoul 3 years ago

      This is a great write-up.

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I feel like the lasst person on earth who hasn't read it! I'm lucky enough to know where my food comes from, as we have an organic farm where we raise animals (and they truly are free range) and grow fruit & vegies. I only eat chicken I've killed myself, not just for ethical reasons but because the supermarket chicken tastes like rubber to me.

      I love your book review.

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Oh my, I didn't realize I'd chimed in twice on your duel debate - sorry about that! *blush* But I guess that just goes to show how close to home this issue is for me. Great lens and book review.

    • profile image

      entertainmentev 5 years ago

      It's a great book. I suggest everyone to read it.

      Wonderful lens!

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 5 years ago from U.S.

      I have to admit that I haven't read any of Pollan's books yet, although my husband and a son has, and they've been urging me to read them. Omnivore's Dilemma sounds like a good choice for me to start with. I had heard that GMO soy beans and corn are in so many of our foods, in one way or another. Sobering thought!

    • profile image

      NC Shepherd 5 years ago

      I love Pollan's books. His writing is so readable and his message so important.

    • ecogranny profile image
      Author

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      @Diana Wenzel: I've always wondered how he could do that too! Even though he ate the burger before he visited the feedlot, as a food scientist, he had to have known about the conditions there, at least intellectually. Still, reading a dry journal and standing knee-deep in manure in a crowded feedlot with hundreds of barely mobile steers are two different things.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      I guess that we don't look at ourselves too often as omnivores but simply as meat eating carnivores. Sounds like a book that will really make us stop and think about that aspect of our lifestyle.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      Stopping by to leave a blessing was no dilemma. I'm still trying to figure out how Pollan could eat that burger after visiting the feedlot. I would not have been able to look that cow in the eye and then chow down. I suppose, though, that I have done the equivalent (by not being a vegetarian). I'm committing myself to more compassionate eating habits in 2012. I should have done this years ago, but it's never too late to start.

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Great lens on a great subject. Thanks for bringing it to more people's attentions. ~blessed~!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      I didn't know what to expect from the title ... I thought something was eating him, you know? I believe it is Gordon Hamilton who is embarking on a weekly vegetarian conversion -- I'm thinking I will be less of an omnivore tomorrow too.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Michael Pollan is a favorite author of mine. I look forward to checking out this book. Thanks for the review. It has been shocking to learn the truth about food. The more we know, however, the healthier we will be. Congrats on your first SquidLit!

    • filmic profile image

      filmic 6 years ago

      Nice lens. important stuff.