The Omnivore’s Dilemma

omnivores dilemma

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is a nonfiction book by Michael Pollan published in 2006.

As omnivores – the most unselective eaters – humans are faced with a wide variety of food choices, resulting in a dilemma. Pollan investigates industrial food, organic food, and foraged food.

Pollan begins with an 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, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, and ethanol. Pollan discusses how the corn plant came to dominate the American diet through a combination of biological, cultural, and political factors.

The following section 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 industrial agriculture, losing sight of the organic movement’s anti-industrial roots. A meal prepared from ingredients purchased at Whole Foods Market represents this food chain at the table.

The final section finds Pollan attempting to prepare a meal using only ingredients he has hunted, gathered, or grown himself. He recruits assistance from local foodies, who teach him to hunt feral pigs, gather wild mushrooms, and search for abalone. He also makes a salad of greens from his own garden, bakes sourdough bread using wild yeast, and prepares a dessert from cherries picked in his neighborhood. Pollan concludes that the fast food meal and the hunter-gather meal are ‘equally unreal and equally unsustainable.’


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