This book review of Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma is courtesy of Mint Creek's own Harry Carr. Previously published in the Family Farmers Meats newsletter Vol.1, Issue 1, Fall 2006.
Exactly 100 years ago Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. He gained particular fame for this work, which dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat-packing industry and caused a public uproar that partly contributed to the passage of the Pure-Food and Drug Act in 1906.
Sinclair lamented the effect of his book and the public uproar that resulted: "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident, I hit it in the stomach." I believe Michael Pollen's work to be aimed not so much for the heart or the stomach, but for our reasoning faculty. We shall see if it scores a direct hit.
This book has the capacity to initiate change, similar to Sinclair's work. The beginning of the end of the industrial food system is probably not that close at hand, but after reading this; your diet can't help but change for the better.
Pollen starts out with two questions: What are we eating? and Where does it come from? He answers this by researching four food systems: industrial, industrial organic, organic pastoral, and the hunter-gatherer. Taking us through the history and development of each, he eleborately culminates by hosting and/or preparing a meal from each food system.
In his work, Pollen states, "As different as the journeys of these food systems are, a few themes keep cropping up. One is that there exists a fundamental tension between the logic of nature and the logic of human industry." We seek to maximize efficiency by planting crops or raising animals in vast monocultures. This is something that nature never does, always and for good reasons, practicing diversity instead. A great many of the health and environmental problems created by our food systems are owed to our attempts to oversimplify nature's complexities, at both the growing and eating end of our food chain.
At either end of any food chain, you find a biological system- a patch of soil, a human body. The health of one is connected- literally- to the health of the other. Many of the problems of health and nutrition that we face today trace back to things that happen on the farm. Behind those things, stand specific government policies.