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Pollan's examination of the cultural, moral and socioeconomic tradeoffs we make when eating food is a deep and exhaustive consideration of the consequences of seeming simple choices. By structuring the work around 4 meals, he presents four alternative relationships to nature and the world, and lays bare the personal consequences of each. I found that the detail was, at times unnecessarily fastidious, as when Pollan agonizes over the authenticity of hunting, but not killing, the wild boar in his hunter and gatherer meal, and then taking us through the process again, just so he can personally pull the trigger. I would have rather he had just lied, and took credit for the first kill.
The mix of science, economics and gastronomy was what I would like the Food Network to really be about. The personal perspective of the book sometimes got in the way, but gave it a visceral feel that kept my interest.
What did I learn from the book? That sorting out the food chains involved in what I eat daily is way too complicated to really address it in real life. I would have liked to see an epilogue that explained the way Pollan has worked it out. He hints at this at the end, but doesn't ever present a cogent agenda for how making responsible choices about food fits into the real world of budgets and schedules that we have developed since making the evolutionary choice to not spent most of our waking hours feeding ourselves.
I learned how mushrooms are gathered and the physiology of corn. I learned more than I would ever really want to about the beef industry, and the ecology of grasses. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that will stick with me longer than the meal of boar and mushrooms Pollan serves to his friends at the end of the book.
26 of 26 people found this review helpful
When the book opened, I thought it was going to become some PETA fueled anti-meat rant, and then I thought it was going to become some anti-GM food hippy organic food rant, but I was wrong on both counts. It touches those subjects and many more. In fact, the book moves seamlessly between many subjects.
The author loves meat, and food, but he wants to know exactly where it comes from. He starts by homing in on corn, which is by far the most important component of our diet, being in almost everything we eat in one form or another (interesting, eh?). He then looks closer: how did corn come to dominate our diet, and why do farmers get paid less for their corn than it costs to grow it, and what is the real cost of all that cheap corn?
He then looks at the organic movement, and shows that organic is far from the pastoral ideal we imagine it to be. It is better than over-tilled and fertilized fields and manure filled feedlots, at least. I know a lot of farmers and I have seen some of this first-hand.
Then the author focuses on a truly sustainable farm, and the genius farmers who not only make it work, but make it work well. They can also tell you precisely why it works.
And that's only the first half of the book. The author keeps moving, filling the pages with startling facts and truly excellent writing. The author is apparently a journalist, and it shows in his extensive research and persuasive arguments.
I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. It helps, I suppose, that I was receptive to it. Still, I couldn't put it down, and I can recommend it to anyone who eats.
19 of 20 people found this review helpful