Michael Pollan intelligently investigates and documents the process by which food becomes food in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). Pollan reinterprets the ancient omnivore’s dilemma, the difficulty of choosing what to eat when there is so much you can eat, in his first person attempt to trace the origins of four distinct meals.
As interpreted by Pollan, the ever perplexing omnivore’s dilemma has had a resurgence in modern times. People no longer know what to eat. In my personal life and I expect that in yours as well, the omnivore’s dilemma is ubiquitous. What should I eat? Is that healthy? What is healthy? Who’s guidance do we follow when it comes to choosing what to consume?
According to Pollan, human beings are informed by culture, the practiced and proven routines organized by our antecedents, but in a country where there are so many options and most of us originate from different environments with access to different resources, the U.S. has had to redefine and reinvent our instruction guide to food. Capitalism has taken advantage of this national indecisiveness and created the industrial food complex, making the origins of what we eat difficult to trace and muddling an individual’s relationship to what they ingest.
Pollan asks the reader to analyze the process, the reality, and the ethics of the most integral part of his/her own life, something that each human being must participate in every day in the name of survival. He affably shares his personal experiences on his journey to trace the origins of four different meals: a fast food experience eaten on the go, a microwaveable, but organic, Whole Foods meal, a post-industrial, local, sustainable dinner shared with friends, and a meal where each ingredient has been personally plucked from nature.
The knowledge he shares is relevant to anyone that eats and meaningful to those who believe it is valuable to understand the process behind what they consume. As a member of both groups, I appreciate the way the author is able to compress so much information into a non-pedantic, humorous narrative, making it much more palatable to his readers (bear in mind it’s still a 400+ page book).
I admire and enjoy investigative journalism and I especially appreciate the way Pollan’s voice makes it clear he is not searching for converts, but telling the often neglected backstory to the strange and all too industrialized relationship with food most of us in the U.S. have.