Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#21 - The Omnivore's Dilemma (Also #s 22, 23, 24 & 25)

Somehow, I feel like starting off this post being hyper-critical of myself: I should really be blogging more. I should keep writing even though I don't feel like it. I should do a lot of things. I know that Michael Pollan isn't purely being self aware with The Omnivore's Dilemma, but the introspective elements mixed in with his philosophical discussion of 'a natural history in four meals' definitely makes you think. The book hums along like any good documentary should -- it's rich in investigative journalism, full of interesting points of view about the current state of the food industry, and never fails to try and observe a situation from every angle possible.

Broken into three sections (although subtitled 'four' meals), Industrial, Pastoral and Personal, The Omnivore's Dilemma unearths many real and even some invented debate (his whole rationale for eating meat in the third section I found a little hard to stomach) behind how food is brought to the table. The first section of the book, where Pollan discusses and takes apart the industrial food chain, straight from a fast-food meal eaten in the car to the fact that by-products of corn are in just about every processed item in a grocery store, was utterly captivating. One part Fast Food Nation, another part 100-Mile Diet (which I haven't read all of yet), the sheer force by which farms have become industrialized combined with the unknown and ever-reaching ramifications made me hunger even more for the weather to heat up so I could get seeds in the ground for vegetables.

I also found Pastoral, where Pollan visits and works on a farm that lets animals be animals by having developed a very real, yet still domesticated (is that the right word?) ecosystem that not only feeds the people who live there, but also supplies many restaurants and customers in the area with fresh meat and vegetables, compelling. Never doubting the value of farmers, especially ones practicing organic and more ethical ways of reaping value from the land, The Omnivore's Dilemma points out dramatic differences between industrial farms and smaller, independent outfits.

The third section, as I mentioned above, lagged for me -- probably because, while notable, the idea of hunting and gathering my own food (that which I have not cultivated in my backyard), honestly has me stumped. I couldn't imagine heading out into the woods with a rifle and shooting a wild pig. Yet, I can understand why Pollan felt it necessary, especially with the level of scholarship around which he answers the question: "What should we have for dinner?" Also, I really hate mushrooms. Perhaps this isn't something I should hold against the book.

All in all, I spent much of Easter weekend reading this book. I had to pause for a moment because we had our Fall 2009 sales conference (for which I read two of the best fiction titles I've read in a long, long time: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter, #s 22 & 23; and one truly fantastic YA novel called The Amanda Project, #24) and there was much reading to be done (and shared), but managed to get right back into it once we were through last Friday. There is no way that I will ever think of corn in the same way again. There is no way I'll think of tofu in the same way again. There is no way, in fact, that I'll think of dinner in the same way again, if I'm being honest. And isn't that a most powerful thing for a book to do -- take a mundane and utterly human aspect of one's life and turn it inside out.

Annnywaay. Over the past few weeks, I've been under the weather, mentally, physically, but I've managed to keep the garden going (loads of flower seedlings coming up; everything that needed to be planted before the last frost is in), and keep my head above the metaphorical water enough to still read. Writing, however, still remains a challenge.

Oh, and #25? I finished up Marjorie Harris's delightful Ecological Gardening and learned many, many good tips. Not the least of which was a) that I shouldn't be watering at night (oops!), b) that I should really figure out a way to compost and c) that companion planting (nasturtiums here I come!) is really my friend.

READING CHALLENGES: I'm adding The Omnivore's Dilemma (which is actually the only book I've completed) to The Better You Read, The Better You Get Challenge. One down, nine to go. It's going to be a long year of self-improvement, I think.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: I'm halfway through Coelho's Veronika Decides to Die (Buffy is playing the lead in the film adaptation; I'm excited to see what she does with it, although I'm finding it hard to imagine how they crafted dialogue out of the author's heady narrative).


Kailana said...

You are very good at making books I wouldn't normally even consider sound really interesting!

Kerry said...

Why shouldn't we water at night??

Deanna McFadden said...

Apparently, it promotes disease because the water doesn't have time to evaporate without the sun:


Who knew?

teabird said...

I have to say that this was one of the only books that changed the way I think. I couldn't read the boar-hunting parts straight through, either - I had to keep taking breaks. (I do, however, love mushrooms.)
Great review!

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