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Health, Home, and Happiness: Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsThe Omnivore's Dilemma is a story of our whole American industrial food chain, from the standard American Diet, that surprisingly consists mostly of corn, to the hunter/gatherer diet of local self-gathered and hunted food.

The first part of The Omnivore's Dilemma is about corn and the industrial farming practices that are making a mess out of our food supply, health, and the environment.

Next the focus is on industrial organic, the big organic brands that are found in Costco and supermarkets across the country; Earthbound Farms, Cascadian, Petaluma Poultry.  Industrial organic does keep tons of pesticides out of our environment and food, and is a healthier alternative to standard farming, but it still has issues. Some of the problems that stuck out for me specifically were the 'free range' eggs and chickens who seem to live very similar lives to their non-free-range counterparts, the focus on profit above sustainability, the low pay for the workers.  Lots of encouraging facts, though, like pest control. "To control pests, every six or seven strips of lettuce is punctuated with a strip of flowers: sweet alyssum, which attracts the lacewigs and syphid flies that eat the aphids that can molest lettuces" p 165.

The section on sustainable farming was my favorite.  Michael Pollan spent a week on Polyface Farm with Joel Salatin and wrote about all the efficient sustainable options for farming.  Salatin's method of farming uses both hard work and thinking, and produces more food per acre, more food per calorie of fossil fuel, food with less bacteria, food with more nutrition, than either the big-scale organic or the conventionally raised food.  I loved hearing about the system of rotating animals to keep the pastures in good condition, and how he uses mind over muscle to get the animals moved.  Everything on his farm has a purpose, and generally it not only benefits the animal, but also benefits something else on the farm as well.  The most intriguing part to me was that Salatin's father had bought the property he farms it was depleted and rocky, but through mindful farming not only had they produced nutritious food for their family and customers, but they had also actually enriched the soil and the landscape.  Healthy farming puts more back into the land than it takes out.
Joel Salatin: "In nature health is the default," he pointed out. "Most of the time pests and disease are just nature's way of telling the farmer he's doing something wrong." p 221

The last section was on hunting/gathering, which was also interesting.  Being raised near the area that Pollan did this hunting and gathering, I could easily picture the landscape and location and that was kind of fun (I grew up in Northern California).  Pollan set out to gather seafood, wild mushrooms, hunt wild pig, which he found to be the most personal meal.

I did really enjoy the whole book.  I even bought a copy for my skeptical (okay... hostile may be a more accurate term...) of real food uncle and he's agreed to pass it on to my parents after he's done.  I love that it's written as more of a story.  While I find facts and statistics interesting, I have a hard time concentrating and getting through a whole book focused on facts. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a book I'm glad to have on my book shelf.

More books I recommend (links to reviews):

The Maker's Diet is Real Food from a Christian standpoint. I'd love mainstream Christians to get on board with eating whole food and producing it sustainably, the way God intended.

Eat Fat Lose Fat:  Sally Fallon's 'fat book' mostly about coconut fat.  I have felt great since adding more coconut fat to my diet.  She explains the health benefits of coconut oil and a way to lose weight without putting your body in starvation mode.

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: Is the reason the majority of our teens need braces to straighten out their teeth due to malnutritrion? After seeing dentist Weston Price's studies of cultures still eating traditional whole foods, I believe this to be true. 

Real Food for Mother and Baby:  A look at what whole foods to eat when you're expecting.  A nice politically-incorrect answer to What to Expect When You're Expecting. 



OpenID peaceliving said...

I have this book and started it a month or so ago but couldn't get into it, although I loved a few others that I thought were similar. Maybe I should give it another try. It felt a little wordy and researchy to me. I liked In Defense of Food much better, at least so far.

February 19, 2010 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger Cara said...

I suppose it depends on the person, or the mood you're in. It is a little wordy, but that's why I liked it- I felt it described everything so I could 'see' it.

You could try skipping up to the part about Polyface Farms (Sustainable organic)- that was my favorite part.

February 19, 2010 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

I just started this book last week and am loving it! It is the first book I have read along these lines, and I have a list of others (mostly ones you reccomend) that I plan to check out next at my library.
I have also been watching "Food Inc" right now. But I am only able to take it in 30 minute increments before I have to take a break and breathe!
Thanks fo the recommendations!

February 19, 2010 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I read this book this summer and loved it. It was a bit technical and took me awhile, but I still learned so much. I also like his other books.

February 20, 2010 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger Kara said...

Okay, confession time - I picked this up in the book store and it felt a little bit over my head (remember, I'm new to most of this) but I picked up the Young Readers edition of the Omnivore's Dilemma and that I am loving :-)

(it's okay, I've been making fun of myself for this, too lol)

February 20, 2010 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger Cara said...

Kara, I love it! You can always give it a try in a few months or years. I think I owned Nourishing Traditions for a full year before I made any changes to our diet, so I totally understand!

February 20, 2010 at 9:01 AM  

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