Thursday, August 14, 2008

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan first came to my attention some time ago, when I heard Pollan being interviewed on NPR. I had previously read his book The Botany of Desire and loved it, so when Omnivore's Dilemma came out in paperback, I read it right away. My book club (yes, a real, in person book club) just read this, though, so I thought I would review it now.

In short, I really enjoyed this thought-provoking book. Structured around four meals, the book is a look at how different food productions influence both what we eat and our culture at large. I know that description makes it sound terribly boring, but its not. Pollan is an excellent writer and his descriptions of the people and food he comes into contact with are fantastic. With his telling of small pieces of a big business -- like the life of a steer, the politics of corn, a boar hunt-- Pollan brings real drama to food.

One point of criticism (pointed out to me by my husband) is that this is not necessarily a full look at the food industry. Pollan may have started out as journalist, but he does not spend much time looking at opposing viewpoints in this book. I think he gives short shrift to the good that large-scale food operations do (like providing a stable, year-round source of food) and even shorter shrift to "Big Organics" that want to bring organic food to a wider audience. I was captivated by the section of the book devoted to "grass farmer" Joel Salatin and enjoyed the section on hunting/gathering food, but always in the back of my head was the thought that this is not the answer.

Maybe the answer will be in Pollans' follow-up book,  In Defense of Food. I haven't read it yet, but if it is as provocative and well-written as Omnivore's Dilemma, I will have to soon.

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