Sunday, April 26, 2009

I'm sorry it has taken me a while to get to the end of this book and write about it. It seems like every time I tried to read more I kept falling asleep - not because it was boring, I'm just pregnant. But, I am happy to say that I did complete the book and hopefully I can summarize the last 140+ pages in one posting. If you have missed the previous posts, you can catch up here: Introduction; Corn & Cow; Complex Foods, Consumers & Chicken Nuggets; Industrial Organic; and Polyface Farm.

Pollan's final challenge for himself is to make a meal entirely of things he has either grown, hunted or foraged. He spends a while talking about the evolution of our bodies and the earth and how it all links together. I found it amazing to know more details about how fearfully and wonderfully we have been created. We humans have such a capacity to use what the world offers as sustenance. From the structure of our jaws and teeth to the enzymes in our stomachs, we have been made to enjoy the bounties of the earth.

What we don't have that most animals do, is an natural instinct for what we can and can't eat. This is the "Omnivore's Dilemma". We have had to learn through trial and error what is edible and what isn't, how to extract nourishment from foods and how to avoid being sickened by them. Just as hundreds of years ago people might have been hesitant to eat a mushroom, not knowing what the outcome would be, in our own, new way we have this same dilemma in our modern grocery stores as we scan labels and ingredients trying to decide what we should put into our bodies.

Another focus that Pollan discusses and I found interesting was the lack of a deep-rooted culinary culture in America and how that has influenced our society. He compared us to France who eat quite fatty, unhealthy foods. However, the culture that surrounds the meal allows for them to be much healthier - meals are slow with small portions; people don't snack as much and rarely do they eat alone. This culture has lasted for generations. America on the other hand is such a hodge-podge of foods and cultures, that we have no basic culinary traditions to revert to. This, he deduces, leads us to be much more susceptible to food fads, dieting fads and such that swing us back and forth on the pendulum of what is "healthy" and "not healthy."

Pollan also takes some time to wrestle with the ethics of eating animals. I don't want to get into it all, but he comes to the conclusion that animal raising, slaughtering and eating must be done in a humane way.  However, if it is avoided altogether, it will affect the balance of the food chains and in the end, have very adverse affects on those animals we are trying to 'save'.

The majority of this last section is devoted to explaining how Pollan learns to gather his own meal. Where and how to hunt and kill a wild pig. Where to find mushrooms. How to forage for free fruit right within his community (in California). Even attempting to extract his own salt from old salt flats. You'll have to read the book if you want to know more about his adventures and the knowledge he gained from them.

In the end, Pollan sits down with those who have helped him on this foraging experience to what he determines is the perfect meal - one that has worn no bar codes, is entirely local and seasonal, and where he knows the source of every dish on the table and the story to go along with it. He makes it clear that this type of eating is not realistic, but the point he is trying to make is that we need to be in touch with what our food actually IS and WHERE it comes from.

French Cafe courtesy of antiquehelper.com

Comments (10)

On May 8, 2009 at 10:28 PM , Kelly said...

I have been wanting to read this one, but haven't gotten around to it yet. A suggestion... try Nina Planck's Real Food. I really enjoyed this one. Her website is http://www.ninaplanck.com/index.php?page=real_food_book

 
On August 25, 2009 at 5:26 AM , Anonymous said...

Thanks for your wonderful summaries! Omnivore's Dilemma seems like a fascinating book and I can't wait to read it for myself.

 
On September 6, 2009 at 11:15 PM , Stephanie said...

Thank for such a wonderful journey through Pollan's book! I was hesitant about reading it, but now I am definitely going out to get it.

 
On September 8, 2009 at 8:47 PM , Anonymous said...

I just want to say that i read this book and u the international mama gave the best summary i could think of. OMG IT WAS JUST SO GOOD! also i want to say that the book really is quiet bad just because of the length so it is better to just read the mama's summary because she gives adequate details to pollens book.

 
On September 9, 2009 at 7:05 AM , Jia Le said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you enjoyed the summary. It really was a fascinating book. I would also like to watch Food, Inc sometime as it seems to mirror Pollen's book. Let me know if you've seen it and what you think.

 
On December 8, 2009 at 5:53 AM , Anonymous said...

Thank you for your summaries!
I am really enjoy it, also it helps me to go through the book quickly within a short time.

 
On December 16, 2009 at 6:04 AM , Anonymous said...

Food, Inc was an awesome movie to see, yet quite disturbing at points because it showed alot of what Pollen talks about in his book. It's hard to watch alot of the bits about the animals but it is very fascinating and enlightening; i recommend it!
Thanks for the summaries by the way, I tried getting through this book numerous times but due to the length and slightly technical speaking, i fell asleep alot. these really helped!

 
On October 16, 2010 at 10:27 PM , Anonymous said...

Thanks international mama this review really helped me understand and comprehend this sections key points and ideas/themes. I could really relate this to some of my local companies and their theorys.

 
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