Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Omnivore's Dilemna.

How to sum up a book like The Omnivore's Dilemna? Michael Pollan's tome-sized follow up to The Botany of Desire goes far beyond the normal levels of a well-researched book. He gets out of the library and gets his hands dirty; he works on farms, tours others, goes hunting, forages mushrooms, among a host of other things. In the process he deeply probes the question of (essentially) how to eat sustainably. He's not an idealist and takes into full account that the modern industrial world is here to stay, for as long as we can make it last. He's also not sold on too many ideas that most liberal-minded people (such as myself) accept as fact these days; organic is always better, not eating meat is always a more concious way to live, etc. He's perfectly willing to approach these assumptions with the open-minded possibility that they may not be true. From this, he investigates the business of "industrial organic," in other words, how organic products are manufactured for millions of people. He finds that, while they are better in that they don't use chemicals on their lands, they go against most of the original principles of organic by growing monocrops and often using more petro products in the process by using extra machinery in the place of chemicals. Not to mention the gas used on the long-distance shipping most of these companies do. He has a long meditation on the ethics of eating meat, which at points is like an argument against vegetarianism (a well-formed argument, but not one that swayed me).
While most of his conclusions land more towards the liberal-minded truth side, he makes the point clear that there's often another level (or levels) we're not seeing, a removal from how the food we're eating got to our plate and anyone's roght answers/better ways of eating could be just different ways of looking at the same thing.
A constantly engaging writer, he supplies all the hard facts that any other health/food ethics book could easily do, but making it (sometimes humorously) informal and real. Concious Eating for those who still want to be able to share a meal with their family and friends.