Recently, I have been trying to read non-fiction books. My latest non-fiction book is Omnivore’s Dilemma by Micheal Pollan.
I’m going to be honest. I am not a fan of the non-fiction genre. I want a story with some romance, adventure, possibly magic. Non-fiction usually doesn’t cut it. However, this book was pretty good (if you ignore the bias).
Eating is simple for many animals. If you are a Koala, you know you want eucalyptus leaves. If you are a Panda, you seek bamboo. However, it’s much more complex when you are an omnivore. There are so many options that you can choose from. Wether it’s Fries or a bowl of lettuce, you are the one that chooses what you put into your body. “When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer,” Michael Pollan writes in his thoughtful, engrossing new book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety.”
Not only is choosing what you eat hard, but knowing what you are choosing to eat is also part of the dilemma. Ask yourself, what’s in a chicken nugget. Chicken? Sure. But corn feeds that chicken and corn is in the flour that is in the chicken as well as in the bread that wraps the chicken. Pollan opens his readers eyes when he states, “Corn is the King of the food chain.” Corn is everywhere. It has dominated out grocery marts and our fast food chains. It is being forcefully fed to cows which because it is forced, antibiotics are given to the cows to help the offset of their diet. It is also getting turned into something that is no longer a vegetable, but an unhealthy thick form of sugar, HFCS (High fructose corn syrup), which, even though it didn’t hit the American market until 1980, Pollan believes it to be the prime cause of obesity problems today.
Another problem of today is the use of the word “organic” that Pollan believes is used too lightly. One day, he decides to visit a chicken farm. The farm is home to the Rosy Chicken. Basically just a bunch of chicken all named rosy for commercial purposes. The packaging of the chicken says “free-range”. Pollan wants to visit because he wants to truly understand what a free-range chicken is. When he arrives, he is surprised. The chickens are cramped in a stuffy low-ceiling room with closed fences that lead to tiny squares of dirt with few grass patches. I read this and instantly thought “liars! How dare they call their chickens free-range!” but Pollan writes “”there are no hormones or antibiotics in their feed to accelerate growth.” and avoided giving his opinion on the part where the chickens aren’t actually free-range.
Pollan is able to find a saving grace from all the lies and horrors of the farming business, Joel Salatin, a farmer in Virginia who will sell his goods only to local customers. He has an all-organic, smart, eco-friendly way to farm. For example, his cattle graze a plot of grass for a day or two and are then succeeded by several hundred laying hens, which not only nibble on the clipped grass but pick grubs and larvae from the cowpats, thereby spreading the manure and eliminating parasites. Salatin seems to have found the secrets of sustainable agriculture. The shocker is that he doesn’t want to be part of any national solution. He’s an off-the-grid grumpy man who hates the government, home-schooled his kids and declares to Pollan: “Why do we have to have a New York City? What good is it?” But Pollan, a much too nice-guy whose awe of Salatin is overwhelming his ability to express his opinions, lets the farmer off lightly, saying that his provocative words “made me appreciate what a deep gulf of culture and experience separates me from Joel — and yet at the same time, what a sturdy bridge caring about food can sometimes provide.”
That’s the one things that was pushing my buttons throughout the book, Pollan’s tendency to be too nice. He doesn’t write with rage nor does he take a firm stand. Rage and confidence are two things that give excellent style to a non-fiction book, sadly, Pollan lacks both. Nonetheless, this book filled my brain with information that I will probably never use, but information that is quite interesting to think about and to share with others.