The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
This isn’t the first book of Michael’s I have read, but it is the first I have read since doing my yearly challenge. Michael puts a lot of effort into his book and brings things to light about your food, that you probably wouldn’t want to know otherwise.
This book is rather lengthy. It’s also my non-fiction book for the month of January. I took it little bits at a time, mostly, but finished up the bulk of it earlier. This book is about Michael’s exploration into food of all types and how we get that food.
The first part of this book deals mainly with our industrialized food and why it came to be that way. Some of us know, but not all of us know, that a large percentage of our diet is corn. That’s right corn, corn, and more corn. Corn is highly subsidized by the United States government. It is grown mainly in the mid-west. Farmers are up to their eyeballs in debt to pay for their machinery. Corn is planted thousands of acres at a time. It is tended very little during the season. The strains of corn being grown have been genetically modified to resist pests or weeds. Some corn is genetically modified to be immune to large doses of Roundup. This corn is covered with chemically created nitrogen fertilizer.
This corn is harvested then goes pretty much everywhere. Some of it gets turned into food. Some is grown for its corn value. Some is grown to be turned into corn flakes, but large percentages of corn get turned into other items. Corn is dissected in factories that are part laboratory. There the corn gets turned into Guar Gum and High fructose Corn Syrup. The corn also goes to factories that will turn the corn into fuel for some cars. The corn might also be turned into alcohol. This may all happen, but a large percentage of this corn gets turned into animal feed.
Cows, chickens, pigs, and many more animals that are farmed receive a steady diet of corn. The corn may not look like regular old corn because it’s been flaked or mixed with other ingredients, but it’s still corn. Here’s the thing, none of the animals that are currently fed on corn are designed to eat corn. Corn makes them sick. The cows that are raised in cattle feedlots, were not made to eat corn. If they were not slaughtered so quickly, they would probably die from illnesses related to their consumption of corn. One of the truly gross things is that their feed corn is actually mixed with a fat, many times that fat is actually beef tallow. That’s right, cows eating pieces of other cows. The practice of feeding cows parts of other ground up cows used to be common place until mad cow scares, now they just feed other cows beef tallow. Awesome right?
Michael actually purchased a cow in order to watch it go through the American meat system. He followed it from the ranch where it was born and ultimately to the slaughterhouse where it was killed.
Michael goes on to explore other types of getting food. Michael visits with Joel Salatin on his farm, Polyface. If you have never had the chance to hear Joel talk about his farming mentalities, you’re missing out. Joel runs a very clean farm. Nothing goes to waste, ever. He takes careful consideration into the grass and if it’s being overgrazed or not. Michael spends several days on the farm observing the way Joel creates food. On one day Michael actually helps with killing the chickens. The chickens on Joel’s farm are slaughtered outside, that’s right in the open air. He’s sent samples from his slaughtering operation to various labs and his slaughter operation is cleaner than any industrial slaughterhouse operation. His animals are not fed corn. They graze on grass. They eat what nature intended. Joel’s food costs a little more than the stuff you find in the grocery store, but it’s much better for you than industrially prepared food.
Michael also mentions that between animals raised on corn and animals raised in grass, the animals raised on grass are much better for you. So when someone says, “Oh, there’s no difference,” they’re big fat liars. Animals raised on grass have a much higher concentration of “good for you” omega fatty acids, while animals raised on corn have a much higher concentration of “bad for you” omega fatty acids.
Michael goes on to explore industrialized organic. This looks much the same as regularly sourced food, but the animals do not receive antibiotics and they’re not fed chemically created crap. No chemical fertilizer or pesticide is placed on organic produce, even though all of it is treated in much the same manner. You may be purchasing organic chicken that was “grass-fed” or “pasture raised” but these terms loosely mean that they gave the chickens some grass in their chicken house and there was a door that went outside to a grassy area outside of the chicken house, but the chickens didn’t really use it at all. So the only way you’re getting a truly “grass-fed” animal is if you’re buying it directly from the farmer and you see where it’s been raised.
After all of this Michael is a vegetarian for about a month. He doesn’t really like it. I didn’t either. He speaks of how much more difficult it is to prepare a vegetarian meal than it is to prepare a meal with meat.
Michael goes hunting. He’s never really been hunting. He goes with a friend to an area of California, determined to shoot a wild hog. The first trip brings up nothing, but on the second trip Michael gets his hog. It weighs about 190 pounds. He and a friend make all kinds of delicious things out of this hog. At first, Michael has regrets upon killing this wild animal, but soon learns what purpose this can serve to the world.
Michael goes hunting for mushrooms. Yes, you can actually go out into the wild and hunt mushrooms, you just have to know what you’re looking for. I’ve never been too into it myself, but maybe I’ll take up the hobby someday. Michael hunts for morels and chanterelles. I have never had a chanterelle so I don’t know what they taste like.
In the end of the book, Michael prepares a meal for his friends that is supposed to come completely from things he has sourced. His meat is the hog he shot. The dessert is made from cherries he picked out of his sister’s yard. He caught the wild yeast himself to make the sour dough bread. He grew the fava beans in his own yard. The meal is a pretty bit hit and Michael takes pride in the fact that he has learned somewhat how to live off the land and farm.
What I liked
Michael is always very informative. He does so much research when he writes a book. He goes places. He observes things. He tries his own hand at many tasks. Michael is really hands-on. When he says he has done something, he really did it.
I love that Michael finds all these great people to help him out with his book. The corn farmer he finds doesn’t farm GMO corn. Joel Salatin is just awesome and I might actually be getting a chance to hear him in person this year, we’ll see. I’ve seen Joel on so many documentaries and read so much that he has done. Joel is one smart cookie when it comes to farming and keeping things balanced out. He’s definitely someone to imitate. Temple Grandin is always interesting. Then all the other people Michael finds are amazing. He finds a guy who hunts his own wild boar and then makes his own pate. How much more hands-on can you get? Not much.
Michael’s books always serve to open your eyes. These are things you didn’t know about before. You didn’t know that steak you’re eating would be composed of a large percentage of corn proteins and that it was probably fed beef tallow. Nice huh? Corn can actually be traced. So if you eat corn and your meat eats corn, that corn can be traced all the way. If you ate a chicken that lived on corn, they could tell that you ate corn, not because you actually ate corn, but because your food at corn.
What I didn’t like
Some of these processes are absolutely disgusting and, no, I’m not talking about when Michael and his friend gut a wild pig out in the open. That’s pretty normal in my opinion. I grew up in the south. What I am talking about is how these animals are raised. That steak you’re eating stood ankle-deep in manure on the feedlots. It ate corn, which made it sick, but that corn was mixed with beef tallow. That’s like eating fat from another person that has been liposuctioned out of them. That doesn’t sound very appealing does it?
Laying hens have their beaks cut off so they can’t peck each other. They get depressed when they’re put into tiny cages and their only purpose is to produce eggs.
It’s all so nasty. I’m not a PETA advocate in any manner, but seriously people, you have got to treat these food animals just a little better. The way in which these animals are raised is the reason we have to have ultra-pasteurized milk. The way these animals are raised is the reason there are drug-resistant strains of various bacterias. The way the plants are raised is the reason we have pesticide resistant super weeds. The meat you eat is not healthy.
Think about it, if you want to be healthy, wouldn’t you want to eat healthy animals? Instead you’re getting sick cows. They’re sick all the time, they’re fed a constant stream of antibiotics, and they stand in their own waste twenty-four hours a day, until they’re slaughtered, in a dirty slaughterhouse, which has no federal regulations as to how many pathogens can be found there at any given time. That’s because most slaughterhouses would fail any acceptable limits. The chicken you’re getting is no better. The eggs you’re getting are no better.
Michael’s books go a long way to increase awareness of these issues. You may think those eggs on the shelf are so much cheaper than the eggs you would buy from a local farmer, but they’re not as good for you. They’ve been subsidized by the government. You pay taxes right? Think about it, you get charged roughly sixteen percent in income taxes. You pay taxes on gas. You pay taxes on your car. You pay taxes on your house. You pay sales tax. There are lots of taxes and those taxes add up to a large portion of your income. You see eggs for a dollar a dozen, or whatever, and you think, “That’s cheap,” but you’ve already paid for it, because the government uses many of your tax dollars to subsidize corn and soybeans and other farming endeavors. In reality, you’re paying a lot more for those eggs than you think you are. On top of it all, you’re getting crap. That’s just like the government.
So, with a book like this we can see a little into the world of alternative farming. We can see that we can buy local. We can buy organic. We can buy from small places. This will in turn support out local economy and eventually, if everyone caught on, we’d be healthier because our food would be healthier, but that’s a dream. We can try though.
If you’re at all interested in where your food comes from, read this book. It will be an enlightenment and it will keep your more mindful of the food you put on your plate.
books about food, books about where food comes from, CAFOs, corn, corn subsidies, factory farms, factory organic, hunting wild boar, joel salatin, michael pollan, organic food, slaughterhouses, temple grandin, the omnivore’s dilemma, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
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