Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To diet, or not to diet...

This past summer I stumbled upon Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. In the book, Pollan breaks down three different ways that we, as a nation, tend to obtain our food. There is the industrial route, or as he argues, the corn route. While we have all heard the facts that high fructose corn syrup is in almost everything we eat (see my earlier post) he also explains that it is also in less known places, like beef. Many of the current industrial farming practices use corn to feed the animals, even though corn is not the animals diet of choice. This leads to many of the problems we see today, such as tainted food, among others. Another route he details is the so-called organic route. Upon further investigation, he finds that many of the organic foods we buy/eat, while adhering to the "organic" standards, are grown use similiar methods as industrial farmers. Finally, he attempts the foraging route, meaning he both hunts for his meat and grows his vegetables.

All in all, The Omnivore's Dilemma is probably one of the most thought provoking books I have recently read. Pollan concludes that each of these "food webs" has its downsides, whether it be impracticality (foraging) or unsustainable (industrial farming). In the end Pollan argues for transparency in the food processing industry and that we re-examine our notions about food. He believes that if we all knew what we are putting into our bodies, our diets would inevitably change. In the beginning of the book, Pollan makes a reference to any of the other purchases we make on a day-to-day basis. For example, when buying a car many agonize over the sticker price, safety features and even gas mileage. Unfortunately, this same scrutiny does not hold for food- many of us simply eat what is around without any thought given to how it was grown/produced and what it will do when it gets inside.

In terms of a "diet", Pollan coins what he calls the American paradox: "Americans are a people so obsessed with nutrition yet whose dietary health is so poor." Instead of recommending a diet, he takes a more holistic view of eating and believes eating should be a communal experience centered on the cooking and sharing of a meal- something our fast paced society has definitely moved away from. In conclusion, The Omnivore's Dilemma is a book I think everyone should read, whether you feel confident in your dietary decisions or have no idea where to go, or like me, fall somewhere in between. If you want to check out more of Michael Pollan, here is a link to his recent interview in the NY Times:

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