Monday, September 04, 2006

book recommendation: the Omnivore's Dillema

If you want a food-related read that's also socially-conscious, I highly recommend Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dillema. I wanted to read this book when it first came out, but I decided to be frugal, which meant I had a long, long wait on the library hold list. And when I finally had the book in my hands, I wished I had bought it. I probably will at some point.

Pollan considers the question "what should I eat?" by looking into the natural history of four meals: McDonald's drive-thru; a meal made from a local, organic farm; a meal mad from "industrialized organic," i.e. Whole Foods; a meal made from food Pollan hunted, gathered, or grew. Pollan's writing is engaging and thorough and by thinking so deeply about his own meals, Pollan encourages you to think about your own.

What I particularly like about Pollan is that he is a true omnivore; by digging into the implications of how we produce and consume food, he is not trying to encourage me to become a vegetarian or to dramatically change my eating habits. He just wants me to think about how I can be more ethical in my eating habits. And he absolutely got me thinking. While Pollan addresses many issues, what most compelled me was the necessity to eat locally. I am lucky that I read the book in the summer when my meals primarily consist of fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market or my dad's garden. I had a moment of severe fretting when I went to the grocery store and wondered how I'm going to eat locally and ethically in the winter. I'll just have to think about things more, I suppose. Reading Pollan's book also encouraged a semi-fanatical dedication to canning (but more about that later).

After reading the book, I was talking to an environmentally-conscious friend about how I'd realized that the best way I can help the environment is to eat locally. He replied that it was hard to eat locally. I agreed that with the short growing season it is somewhat of a challenge, but he was talking about the problem of variety. "Think about what grows here: potatoes, squash, tomatoes. It's hard to eat that all the time." I can completely understand squash fatigue, but he is wrong about the variety. When was the last time you saw this in your grocery store?




Maybe my eating is currently dominated by tomatoes, but who cares when you get unbelievably gorgeous heirloom tomatoes like this?

A couple of blogs I like that focus on eating locally and ethically:
Ethicurean
I Heart Farms

12 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

I just started reading this book yesterday--yay Labor Day weekend!--after putting it on reserve at the library and waiting several months too. We had corn for dinner tonight and I kept thinking about the corn chapter that opens the book--fascinating!

8:52 PM  
Blogger Lisa B. said...

I read the piece that appeared in the NYTimes mag that focused on the meal he made by hunting, gathering or growing, and found it fascinating. I, too, am anxious to read this book. I, too, am preserving like a madwoman. I feel I want to put up as much food as possible, and buy preserved food at the market as well, so that this winter I will be eating less--produce in particular--that I have to buy which means that it was trucked from who knows where. I'm also thinking that I'll buy from Chad, that wacky guy, who sells all winter long from his greenhouse.

11:34 AM  
Blogger lis said...

yes, buying from Chad is a good option. luckily he sells his stuff on Saturdays right around the corner from my house.

1:35 PM  
Blogger tara said...

The last time I was in Whole Foods, they were selling tomatoes grown in Belgium. Belgium! While tomatoes are in season, no less. I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around that.

7:07 AM  
Blogger lis said...

yeah, I thought Pollan's critique of Whole Foods and the like was one of the best parts of the books, that the whole notion of "organic" they promote is somewhat suspect. Why aren't organic food stores buying from local farmers? Belgium, indeed!

7:20 AM  
Blogger ringloss said...

I don't understand why buying tomatoes from Belgium is bad.

What is "unethical" about buying produce grown beyond your locality?

Are we supposed to favor people who happen to live close to us over people who live farther away? Is it better to buy your tomato from a farmer 12 miles from your home than it is to buy from a farmer 15 miles away? Or does the sin kick in only after you cross a state border or an ocean?

Does this apply to processed or manufactured goods as well? Is it wrong to ride a bicycle that was made on the other side of the country or the other side of the world?

What about French cheese?

9:28 AM  
Blogger lis said...

well, I don't think it's bad to buy food from far away. It's just that the tomatoes from Belgium required oil and other resources to get from Belgium to here. The tomatoes that I buy locally consumed less energy to get from farm to table. And in the big scheme of things, I think that matters. It makes my footprint on the earth just a little bit smaller.

10:43 AM  
Blogger lis said...

and, I should add that the tomatoes I buy from the local farmer taste way, way better than the tomatoes that came from Belgium (or elsewhere) because they ripened on the vine and not in a box.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Whereas French cheese actually tastes much better if it hangs out in a box or a cave for a few months!

7:52 PM  
Blogger Riana said...

My mom is sending me the book after she reads it. I can't wait. I *heart* Michael Pollen. I try to be a locovore whenever I can. But I am lucky to live in a mild climate with a farmer's market in front of my house every morning.

1:20 AM  
Blogger bcinfrance said...

You might enjoy reading a site I write for, Growers and Grocers. (www.growersandgrocers.net)

I had heard about the book too and almost wrote about it for my column with G and G -- but since I hadn't read it, I thought that wasn't such a great idea!

3:49 AM  
Blogger ringloss said...

That's cool.

Personally, I enjoy having the whole world of foods available to me regardless of season or locality. I believe that the positive effects of trade in improving the lot of people around the world outweigh the negative effects of the energy used.

So, we have different ideas about the efficacy and costs/benefits of reducing our "footprints" on the planet, but I'm totally cool with anyone buying whichever tomatoes they like best based on taste, price, or personal estimation of the broader costs.

8:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home