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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals » User review

Your head will explode after reading this book

  • Oct 5, 2010
Pros: Excellent read, lots of good information, thought provoking

Cons: somewhat scary once you realize just what you are consuming.

The Bottom Line: This is one of the better, completely one sided books on the market. Great concepts that truly make you think about what you eat.

I have always been a somewhat healthy eater. This isn't as much because I really wanted to ensure that everything I consumed was good for me as much as I really just enjoyed the consumption of fruits and vegetables. As I don't really enjoy eating candy, eating healthy just sort of came naturally, as it realistically should.

However, in the process of eating healthy, I began to realize my trends and started to branch out and learn more about other alternative foods that were healthier than the junkier foods that I would consume. I found better cereals, better milks, better vegetables, and essentially a much better, healthier diet. During this stage of my life, where experimentation of food, and trial and error were an almost daily event, I began to read more about healthy living. One of the books that I found to be the most intriguing was actually suggested to me by a vegan friend of mine. She had become vegan after becoming extremely sick. Doctors said that she would only live another 3-4 months, she was desperate for a solution and began her voyage for answers, which lander her with a holistic healer, that taught her about becoming a vegan. Now, 5 years later, she's healthy as anyone else, and magically better. This was motivation enough for me to experience new things. The book that she suggested I read was called, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.

About the book
The book is really just an incredible journey that Pollan takes you on, inside the food we eat. The book is essentially, three different sections, industrial farming, organic farming, and hunting and gathering. Pollan goes into great detail about each of the sections to truly drive home a point.

In the first section of the book, industrial farming, Pollan talks about the current state of food in our country. He debates why American's are so overweight and why we can't ever seem to get ahead. He notes that the same ingredient that is used to fatten up our animals, is the same ingredient that makes up 25% of our food products. This ingredient is corn. Throughout the last century, our use of corn has substantially increased, and we have found ways to use corn in virtually aspect of our lives. Because of the versatility of corn and the massive over abundance of corn, it has made it's way into our homes in more ways that we can imagine. Pollan talks about the three main ingredients in the majority of our foods, corn starch, corn syrup, and corn oil. If you look at your product labels in your house as I did, you'll find that almost everything has some sort of a corn product in it. This is on top of the huge amounts of corn that the food we are consuming is already eating. Essentially, Pollan states that we are all made of more corn than anything else. Even the chicken nuggets at McDonald's, which use a total of 38 ingredients (gross), 13 of those are corn derived. Overall, corn has really become a major part of our diet and is obviously doing the same thing to Americans that it does to our animals, MAKING US FAT!

The author also talks about how organic farms step away from the use of corn and allow their animals and crops to grow naturally the way that they would if they were wild. The cows graze, eating only grass, not the hormones and corn that most industrial cows are eating. The fruits and vegetables grow without the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Animals aren't held in small stalls to prevent them from moving, allowing them to fatten quickly. The overall process is substantially better, and the food quality is lacking much less corn than industrial farming. The result is that many organic only eaters are naturally lighter than those that eat anything. However, I debate this rationale on the basis that those that eat only organic, naturally are more observant of what they are eating. As such, they generally pay more attention to labels and thus calories. They are going to be naturally inclined to consume less, eat less fat, and thus be substantially lighter weight than those in the general population that don't. However, the validity of corn causing Americans to become fat, that's definitely a reasonable hypothesis worth testing.

The final section of the book is rather strange. I found that Pollan became a little bit unusual as he began foraging for food, tracking down wild boars, harvesting mushrooms, and creating meals simply from the foods that he hunted for and gathered himself. This method obviously isn't probable for most people as even him, as a seasoned hunter took a while to collect all of the food that he needed in order to create a meal. It just wouldn't be realistic for the average consumer to revert back to this type of lifestyle, however, on occasion, this could be quite the experience.

Pollan, throughout the book kept reverting back to the concept of corn in everything that we eat. You could truly tell how annoyed he was with industrial farming and his hatred towards how the animals were treated and raised. You could really tell his discontent when he was discussing organic farming. I think he spent more time on tangents in this section, talking about how bad industrial farming was than he really spent talking about the actual topic of organic farming.

My Thoughts
Throughout the book, Pollan really focuses on one central issue and that is the overuse of corn in the food industry. He argues that this overuse has really created major issues for Americans and that we are no longer eating the diet that we were meant to eat biologically. We are consuming far more oils, we are consuming far too many corn products, and essentially aren't consuming enough of the natural products that our bodies truly need in order to function effectively.

While he brings up some incredible points, I feel as if many of his ideas are incredibly biased against industrial farming. While I agree that corn is overused, which is why I use coconut based products as an alternative, he doesn't really offer any real solutions to the problem. More than anything he just states that the situation is going to get worse as farmers begin to produce more corn to make up for the falling prices, when in reality this is just harming them more. I think the major consensus that he's trying to get readers to reach is that we all need to switch to organic or to a hunting and gathering lifestyle. This of course is unrealistic and would put a HUGE strain on that industry. Not to mention our country doesn't realistically have enough open space to let all of the animals required for meats to just run around free and eat grass. While this is ideal, it is completely unrealistic.

I think the main thing that I got from this book is that I need to look more closely at what I'm eating and consider that before making eating decisions. If I would have known how many ingredients were in some of the foods that I eat at restaurants, I would never eat those foods. Why do we need 38 ingredients in chicken nuggets? We shouldn't and the reality is that all of those natural flavors are catching up to us and causing us to gain weight substantially faster than many other nations.

Regardless of the reality, this book was extremely well written and makes for a very interesting read whether you buy into the viability of what Pollan discusses or not. I think if nothing else, it will truly open your mind to what you are consuming on a regular basis.


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More The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natu... reviews
review by . July 02, 2010
Before you read this, there could be a spoiler. However, what I included should only peak your interest.      In his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan takes a look at food that Americans eat and traces them back to their source. He examines corn, the McDonald's Extra Value Meal, Big Organic, and finally the hunter gatherer. He exposes a disconnect between the food we eat and where it comes from. As you read the pages in the book you will find yourself …
review by . July 13, 2010
We, most members of Western Civilization in the Twenty First Century, have gotten very separated from our food.  We know websites and tv shows, but we don't know where our food comes from even though we eat every day.  It is bizarre that we are, on the whole, so unconcerned with what we put in our bodies, the very foods that will (or will not) allow us to live long and healthy lives.       Michael Pollan follows four separate meals from the farm to the plate. …
review by . July 27, 2010
This is a great book about food...however, it will make you lose your appetite. I love the way the book is laid out with the four sections. the corn section is the longest and the most disturbing. I am forever looking at labels to see the ingredients list and shudder when I think of all the corn consumed in one meal. The hunting and gathering section was funny to me. I understand hunting as it is a culture we follow in the midwest. His take on hunting as a Californian with no hunting experience …
review by . February 19, 2009
For years my family and friends have told me I am crazy with my picky eating habits, refusing to eat processed foods and wanting only organic meat and produce.  Well guess what, I sent the book to half of my family who is now trying to eat organic, local and totally unprocessed foods.  This book gives a no-nonsense look into the origins of the food we eat today in such a way that the most skeptical  will examine their diet.
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About this book


The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is a 2006 non-fiction book by Michael Pollan in which the author explores the question "What should we have for dinner?" To answer this question, he follows four meals, each derived through a different food-production system, from their origins to the plate. Along the way, Pollan examines the ethical, political, and ecological factors that are intertwined in the industrial, large-scale organic, local, and personal (hunted-gathered) food chains, while describing the environmental and health consequences that result from food choices within these chains.

Pollan begins with a deep exploration of the food-production system from which the vast majority of American meals are derived. This industrial food chain is largely based on corn, whether it is eaten directly, fed to livestock, or processed into chemicals such as glucose and ethanol. Pollan discusses how the humble corn plant came to dominate the American diet through a combination of biological, cultural, and political factors. The role of petroleum in the cultivation and transportation of the American food supply is also discussed.

A fast food meal is used to illustrate the end result of the industrial food chain.


The following chapter delves into the principles of organic farming and their various implementations in modern America. Pollan shows that, while organic food has grown in popularity, its producers have adopted many of the methods of ...

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ISBN-10: 0143038583
ISBN-13: 978-0143038580
Author: Michael Pollan
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Penguin
Date Published: August 28, 2007
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