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The Book:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. Penguin Press, New York.
Part I: Initial Discussion Post (125 points) — Due at 11:59 PM on Wednesday, April 25th.
Choose one of the meals/food systems that Pollan discusses in his book: Industrial (i.e.
a McDonald’s or traditional supermarket meal), Big Organic (i.e. Whole Foods), Locally
Produced (i.e. Polyface Farms), or Self-foraged/self grown/self hunted. In a discussion
post to the “Book Club Discussion” board (apprx 300-400 words total), please address
the following questions:
•
What cultural, environmental, biological/evolutionary, globalization, or political economic
principles that we have discussed in class relate to Pollan’s discussion of the particular
meal/food system that you are focusing on? You must address a minimum of 2 of these
different course themes in your response. Be sure to use and cite class material (readings,
videos) as evidence to support your argument (apprx 200-300 words). This means you
will have a minimum of two citations in your first post.
•
How did reading this book change (or not change) your views about your own eating
habits and why? Be sure to connect your viewpoints to ideas presented in the book.
(apprx. 100 words).
Praise for The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Gold Medal in Nonfiction for the California Book Award • Winner of the 2007 Bay Area Book Award
for Nonfiction • Winner of the 2007 James Beard Book Award/Writing on Food Category • Finalist for
the 2007 Orion Book Award • Finalist for the 2007 NBCC Award
“Michael Pollan’s outstanding The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is a wideranging invitation to think through the moral ramifications of our current eating habits. Pollan
undertakes a pilgrim’s progress along modern food chains, setting standards for ethical eating.”
—The New Yorker
“[Pollan’s] book is an eater’s manifesto, and he touches on a vast array of subjects, from food fads and
taboos to our avoidance of not only our food’s animality, but also our own. Along the way, he is alert to
his own emotions and thoughts, to see how they affect what he does and what he eats, to learn more and
to explain what he knows. His approach is steeped in honesty and self-awareness. His cause is just, his
thinking is clear, and his writing is compelling. Be careful of your dinner!”
—The Washington Post
“Michael Pollan is a magician…. He turns corn and cows, pigs and chickens into a brilliant, eyeopening account of how we produce, market and agonize over what we eat. If you ever thought ‘what’s
for dinner’ was a simple question, you’ll change your mind after reading Pollan’s searing indictment of
today’s food industry—and his glimpse of some inspiring alternatives…. I just loved this book so much
I didn’t want it to end.”
—The Seattle Times
“Michael Pollan has perfected a tone—one of gleeful irony and barely suppressed outrage—and a way
of inserting himself into a narrative so that a subject comes alive through what he’s feeling and
thinking. He is a master at drawing back to reveal the greater issues.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Michael Pollan convincingly demonstrates that the oddest meal can be found right around the corner
at your local McDonald’s…. He brilliantly anatomizes the corn-based diet that has emerged in the
postwar era.”
—The New York Times
“[Pollan] wants us at least to know what it is we are eating, where it came from and how it got to our
table. He also wants us to be aware of the choices we make and to take responsibility for them. It’s an
admirable goal, well met in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A gripping delight…This is a brilliant, revolutionary book with huge implications for our future and a
must-read for everyone. And I do mean everyone.”
—The Austin Chronicle
“As lyrical as What to Eat is hard-hitting, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural
History of Four Meals…may be the best single book I read this year. This magisterial work, whose
subject is nothing less than our own omnivorous (i.e., eating everything) humanity, is organized around
two plants and one ecosystem. Pollan has a love-hate relationship with ‘Corn,’ the wildly successful
plant that has found its way into meat (as feed), corn syrup and virtually every other type of processed
food. American agribusiness’ monoculture of corn has shoved aside the old pastoral ideal of ‘Grass,’
and the self-sustaining, diversified farm based on the grass-eating livestock. In ‘The Forest,’ Pollan
ponders the earliest forms of obtaining food: hunting and gathering. If you eat, you should read this
book.”
—Newsday
“Smart, insightful, funny and often profound.”
—USA Today
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma is an ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable, if sometimes unsettling, attempt
to peer over these walls, to bring us closer to a true understanding of what we eat—and, by extension,
what we should eat…. It is interested not only in how the consumed affects the consumer, but in how
we consumers affect what we consume as well…. Entertaining and memorable. Readers of this
intelligent and admirable book will almost certainly find their capacity to delight in food augmented
rather than diminished.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“On the long trip from the soil to our mouths, a trip of 1,500 miles on average, the food we eat often
passes through places most of us will never see. Michael Pollan has spent much of the last five years
visiting these places on our behalf.”
—Salon.com
“The author of Second Nature and The Botany of Desire, Pollan is willing to go to some lengths to
reconnect with what he eats, even if that means putting in a hard week on an organic farm and slitting
the throats of chickens. He’s not Paris Hilton on The Simple Life.”
—Time
“A pleasure to read.”
—The Baltimore Sun
“A fascinating journey up and down the food chain, one that might change the way you read the label
on a frozen dinner, dig into a steak or decide whether to buy organic eggs. You’ll certainly never look
at a Chicken McNugget the same way again…. Pollan isn’t preachy; he’s too thoughtful a writer and
too dogged a researcher to let ideology take over. He’s also funny and adventurous.”
—Publishers Weekly
“[Pollan] does everything from buying his own cow to helping with the open-air slaughter of pastureraised chickens to hunting morels in Northern California. This is not a man who’s afraid of getting his
hands dirty in the quest for better understanding. Along with wonderfully descriptive writing and truly
engaging stories and characters, there is a full helping of serious information on the way modern food is
produced.”
—BookPage
“The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about something that affects everyone.”
—The Sacramento Bee
“Lively and thought-provoking.”
—East Bay Express
“Michael Pollan makes tracking your dinner back through the food chain that produced it a rare
adventure.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“A master wordsmith…Pollan brings to the table lucid and rich prose, an enthusiasm for his topic,
interesting anecdotes, a journalist’s passion for research, an ability to poke fun at himself, and an
appreciation for historical context…. This is journalism at its best.”
—Christianity Today
“First-rate…[A] passionate journey of the heart…Pollan is…an uncommonly graceful explainer of
natural science; this is the book he was born to write.”
—Newsweek
“[Pollan’s] stirring new book…is a feast, illuminating the ethical, social and environmental impacts of
how and what we choose to eat.”
—The Courier-Journal
“From fast food to ‘big’ organic to locally sourced to foraging for dinner with rifle in hand, Pollan
captures the perils and the promise of how we eat today.”
—The Arizona Daily Star
“A multivalent, highly introspective examination of the human diet, from capitalism to consumption.”
—The Hudson Review
“What should you eat? Michael Pollan addresses that fundamental question with great wit and
intelligence, looking at the social, ethical, and environmental impact of four different meals. Eating
well, he finds, can be a pleasurable way to change the world.”
—Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness
“Widely and rightly praised…The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals [is] a book
that—I kid you not—may change your life.”
—Austin American-Statesman
“With the skill of a professional detective, Michael Pollan explores the worlds of industrial farming,
organic and sustainable agriculture, and even hunting and gathering to determine the links of food
chains: how food gets from its sources in nature to our plates. The findings he reports in this this book
are often unexpected, disturbing, even horrifying, but they are facts every eater should know. This is an
engaging book, full of information that is most relevant to conscious living.”
—Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Spontaneous Healing and Healthy Aging
“Michael Pollan is a voice of reason, a journalist/philosopher who forages in the overgrowth of our
schizophrenic food culture. He’s the kind of teacher we probably all wish we had: one who triggers the
little explosions of insight that change the way we eat and the way we live.”
—Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse restaurant
“Michael Pollan is such a thoroughly delightful writer—his luscious sentences deliver so much pleasure
and humor and surprise as they carry one from dinner table to cornfield to feedlot to forest floor, and
then back again—that the happy reader could almost miss the profound truth half hidden at the heart of
this beautiful book: that the reality of our politics is to be found not in what Americans do in the voting
booth every four years but in what we do in the supermarket every day. Embodied in this irresistible,
picaresque journey through America’s food world is a profound treatise on the hidden politics of our
everyday life.”
—Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror
“Every time you go into a grocery store you are voting with your dollars, and what goes into your cart
has real repercussions on the future of the earth. But although we have choices, few of us are aware of
exactly what they are. Michael Pollan’s beautifully written book could change that. He tears down the
walls that separate us from what we eat, and forces us to be more responsible eaters. Reading this book
is a wonderful, life-changing experience.”
—Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet magazine and author of Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret
Life of a Critic in Disguise
PENGUIN BOOKS
THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA
Michael Pollan is the author of three previous books: Second Nature, A Place
of My Own, and The Botany of Desire, a New York Times bestseller that was
named a best book of the year by Borders, Amazon, and the American
Booksellers Association. Pollan is a longtime contributing writer at The New
York Times Magazine and is the Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley.
He lives in the Bay Area with his wife, the painter Judith Belzer, and their
son, Isaac. To read more of his work, go to www.michaelpollan.com.
THE
OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA
A NATURAL HISTORY
OF FOUR MEALS
MICHAEL POLLAN
PENGUIN BOOKS
PENGUIN BOOKS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group
(Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of
Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin
Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) Penguin Group
(Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson
Australia Group Pty Ltd) Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New
Delhi–110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0745, Auckland,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24
Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2006
Published in Penguin Books 2007
Copyright © Michael Pollan, 2006
All rights reserved
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE HARDCOVER EDITION AS
FOLLOWS:
Pollan, Michael.
The omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals / Michael Pollan.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN: 1-101-14717-2
1. GT2850.P65 2006. 2. Food habits. 3. Food preferences. I. Title.
GT2850.P65 2006
394.1’2—dc22 2005056557
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by
way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a
similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without
the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized
electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted
materials.Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
FOR JUDITH AND ISAAC
CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION
Our National Eating Disorder
I INDUSTRIAL
CORN
ONE
The Plant: Corn’s Conquest
TWO
The Farm
The Elevator
THREE
The Feedlot: Making Meat
FOUR
The Processing Plant: Making Complex Foods
FIVE
SIX
The Consumer: A Republic of Fat
The Meal: Fast Food
SEVEN
II PASTORAL
GRASS
EIGHT
All Flesh Is Grass
NINE
Big Organic
TEN
Grass: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pasture
ELEVEN
The Animals: Practicing Complexity
TWELVE
Slaughter: In a Glass Abattoir
THIRTEEN
The Market: “Greetings from the Non-Barcode People”
FOURTEEN
The Meal: Grass-Fed
III PERSONAL
THE FOREST
FIFTEEN
The Forager
SIXTEEN
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
SEVENTEEN
The Ethics of Eating Animals
EIGHTEEN Hunting:
NINETEEN Gathering:
TWENTY
The Meat
The Fungi
The Perfect Meal
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
SOURCES
INDEX
THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA
INTRODUCTION
OUR NATIONAL EATING DISORDER
What should we have for dinner?
This book is a long and fairly involved answer to this seemingly simple
question. Along the way, it also tries to figure out how such a simple question
could ever have gotten so complicated. As a culture we seem to have arrived
at a place where whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about
eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety. Somehow this most
elemental of activities—figuring out what to eat—has come to require a
remarkable amount of expert help. How did we ever get to a point where we
need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and
nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?
For me the absurdity of the situation became inescapable in the fall of
2002, when one of the most ancient and venerable staples of human life
abruptly disappeared from the American dinner table. I’m talking of course
about bread. Virtually overnight, Americans changed the way they eat. A
collective spasm of what can only be described as carbophobia seized the
country, supplanting an era of national lipophobia dating to the Carter
administration. That was when, in 1977, a Senate committee had issued a set
of “dietary goals” warning beef-loving Americans to lay off the red meat.
And so we dutifully had done, until now.
What set off the sea change? It appears to have been a perfect media storm
of diet books, scientific studies, and one timely magazine article. The new
diet books, many of them inspired by the formerly discredited Dr. Robert C.
Atkins, brought Americans the welcome news that they could eat more meat
and lose weight just so long as they laid off the bread and pasta. These highprotein, low-carb diets found support in a handful of new epidemiological
studies suggesting that the nutritional orthodoxy that had held sway in
America since the 1970s might be wrong. It was not, as official opinion
claimed, fat that made us fat, but the carbohydrates we’d been eating
precisely in order to stay slim. So conditions were ripe for a swing of the
dietary pendulum when, in the summer of 2002, the New York Times
Magazine published a cover story on the new research entitled “What if Fat
Doesn’t Make You Fat?” Within months, supermarket shelves were
restocked and restaurant menus rewritten to reflect the new nutritional
wisdom. The blamelessness of steak restored, two of the most wholesome
and uncontroversial foods known to man—bread and pasta—acquired a
moral stain that promptly bankrupted dozens of bakeries and noodle firms
and ruined an untold number of perfectly good meals.
So violent a change in a culture’s eating habits is surely the sign of a
national eating disorder. Certainly it would never have happened in a culture
in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating. But
then, such a culture would not feel the need for its most august legislative
body to ever deliberate the nation’s “dietary goals”—or, for that matter, to
wage political battle every few years over the precise design of an official
government graphic called the “food pyramid.” A country with a stable
culture of food would not shell out millions for the quackery (or common
sense) of a new diet book every January. It would not be susceptible to the
pendulum swings of food scares or fads, to the apotheosis every few years of
one newly discovered nutrient and the demonization of another. It would not
be apt to confuse protein bars and food supplements with meals or breakfast
cereals with medicines. It probably would not eat a fifth of its meals in cars or
feed fully a third of its children at a fast-food outlet every day. And it surely
would not be nearly so fat.
Nor would such a culture be shocked to discover that there are other
countries, such as Italy and France, that decide their dinner questions on the
basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition, eat all
manner of “unhealthy” foods, and, lo and behold, wind up actually healthier
and happier in their eating than we are. We show our surprise at this by
speaking of something called the “French paradox,” for how could a people
who eat such demonstrably toxic substances as foie gras and triple crème
cheese actually be slimmer and healthier than we are? Yet I wonder if it
doesn’t make more sense to speak in terms of an American paradox—that is,
a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.
TO ONE DEGREE or another, the question of what to have for dinner assails
every omnivore, and always has. When you can eat just about anything
nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety,
especially when some of the potential foods on offer are liable to sicken or
kill you. This is the omnivore’s dilemma, noted long ago by writers like
Rousseau and Brillat-Savarin and first given that name thirty years ago by a
University of Pennsylvania research psychologist named Paul Rozin. I’ve
borrowed his phrase for the title of this book because the omnivore’s
dilemma turns out to be a particularly sharp tool for understanding our
present predicaments surrounding food.
In a 1976 paper called “The Selection of Foods by Rats, Humans, and
Other Animals” Rozin contrasted the omnivore’s existential situation with
that of the specialized eater, for whom the dinner …
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