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Book Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

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I would rather meet Michael Pollan than Beyoncé (and I really, really like Beyoncé!).  I’m a Clinical Nutritionist and a singer, and I happen to find Mr. Pollan a hell of a lot more fascinating.  I think in order to develop our singing, dancing, and other artistic capabilities we need to have a really strong and solid constitution.  My mantra is healthy body, healthy mind.  Living healthy can help us reach our highest potential.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a DENSE book.  When I say ‘dense’ I mean that it is chock-full of vital information.  You can’t read this book with half a mind.  You’ve got to be on your game – A clean, dry sponge ready to soak in the knowledge.  I had to prepare by having jasmine green tea before I picked it up.  At times it felt like I was reading a textbook and that’s OK, because I found the information to be so valuable.  I was determined to get through it.  I had several stretches where I let the cover collect a thin layer of dust, but it never left my bedside.  I have no shame in saying that it took me six months of on-again, off-again procrastination and force-fed reading to finish this sucker.  It reminded me a lot of being in school where sometimes the reading isn’t particularly fun or easy, but after it’s done I’ll be smarter (hopefully).

I initially thought that this book was going to promote a vegetarian diet, and explain why eating animals is unhealthy and bad.  Not at all.  In fact, I feel more comfortable eating meat now.  This quote in particular really impacted me.

“The farmer would point out to the vegan that even she has a “serious clash of interests” with other animals.  The grain that the vegan eats is harvested with a combine that shreds field mice, while the farmer’s tractor wheel crushes woodchucks in their burrows and his pesticides drop songbirds from the sky; after harvest whatever animals that would eat our crops we exterminate.  Killing animals is probably unavoidable no matter what we choose to eat.  If America was suddenly to adopt a strictly vegetarian diet, it isn’t at all clear that the total number of animals killed each year would necessarily decline, since to feed everyone animal pasture and rangeland would have to give way to more intensively cultivated row crops.  If our goal is to kill as few animals as possible people should probably try to eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least cultivated land:  grass-finished steaks for everyone.” p. 326

This book will raise your level of awareness.  It will get you thinking about your food differently because a lot of times in our culture, American culture, we eat our food mindlessly.  We eat while we’re driving our car.  We eat while we’re browsing the web.  We eat while we’re watching Ryan Gosling movies.  I’m not berating anyone for doing that.  I understand.  I’ve been there and I’m still there, but after reading this book I’ve definitely gained a new awareness of everything involved in the food that I choose to eat.  I feel like that’s super important.

“Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan

Here are more of my favorite quotes from the book to whet your appetite:

“We’ve come to think of “corn-fed” as some kind of old-fashioned virtue, which it may well be when you’re referring to Midwestern children, but feeding large quantities of corn to cows for the greater part of their lives is a practice neither particularly old nor virtuous…Yet this corn-fed meat is demonstrably less healthy for us, since it contains more saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of animals fed grass.”  p. 75

“Three of every five Americans are overweight; one of every five is obese.” p. 102

“Researchers have found that people (and animals) presented with large portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise.  Human appetite, it turns out, is surprisingly elastic, which makes excellent evolutionary sense:  It behooved our hunter-gatherer ancestors to feast whenever the opportunity presented itself, allowing them to build up reserves of fat against future famine.  Obesity researchers call this trait the “thrifty gene.”  And while the gene represents a useful adaptation in an environment of food scarcity and unpredictability, it’s a disaster in an environment of fast-food abundance, when the opportunity to feast presents itself 24/7.  Our bodies are storing reserves of fat against a famine that never comes.”  p. 106

“Perhaps the perfect meal is one that’s been fully paid for, that leaves no debt outstanding.  This is almost impossible ever to do, which is why I said there was nothing very realistic or applicable about this meal [a meal that consisted of only food that was foraged, hunted, and grown by the author and his friends].  But as a sometimes thing, as a kind of ritual, a meal that is eaten in full consciousness of what it took to make it is worth preparing every now and again, if only as a way to remind us of the true costs of the things we take for granted.” p. 410