Saturday, April 08, 2006

Food = Community = I Need This Book

Maggie says:
My inner shopaholic is trembling.

I've gotta have The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan.

This Salon article got me. Read it, it's incredible! He touches on everything I care about, I swear:
We are what we eat

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" author Michael Pollan on how Wall Street has driven America's obesity epidemic, the misleading labels in Whole Foods, and why we should spend more money on food.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

April 8, 2006 | 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. "Industrial food," as Pollan defines it, "is food for which you need an investigative journalist to tell you where it came from." We have been eating such food for so long that most of us have no memory of the much shorter and less complicated food chains that once tied people to the land. We need someone, in other words, to tell us where food of any kind comes from. A longtime writer on food for the New York Times Magazine and author of the bestseller "The Botany of Desire," Pollan is a good man for the job.

In his new book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," Pollan traces meals across four different food chains, or, if you prefer, markets, arranged in order of popularity: a McDonald's drive-through meal, a Whole Foods dinner, a meal raised on a "beyond organic" pasture farm in Virginia, and what Pollan labels the "Perfect Meal," one whose ingredients he hunts and forages for himself. In the course of his investigations, Pollan comes across an unlikely collection of people -- from Iowa corn farmers, Kansas feedlot managers and food processing scientists, to rebel farmers, San Francisco Bay area gourmands and fanatic mushroom foragers -- yet manages to approach all of them with a common sympathy. As he sees it, the corn farmer dumping nitrogen on his fields, the veterinarian loading corn-fed cattle with medication, and the hog farmer snipping pigs' tails to prevent stress-induced chewing in close quarters are all driven by the same pressures. He lays the blame for our destructive and precarious system, if at all, on those in Washington and on Wall Street -- at the USDA and Archer Daniels Midland -- who set the rules of the game. But then they too, he knows, are responding to a set of pressures that come from all of us and our appetites.

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" is equal parts exposé and invitation -- a rolling together of "Fast Food Nation" and "The Moosewood Cookbook" to make the case for saner, more pleasurable eating habits. "Our ingenuity in feeding ourselves is prodigious," Pollan writes, "but at various points our technologies come into conflict with nature's way of doing things, as when we seek to maximize efficiency by planting crops or raising animals in vast monocultures. This is something nature never does, always and for good reason practicing diversity instead."

Oh yes!

Food encompasses everything. It all comes back to food. Everything we need to understand on a global level down to a community level we can understand by how food is eaten. It's magical. And horrendous. And f%*$cked up. And fixable. Fixable on a community scale, fixable on a global scale, and most importantly fixable on an individual scale.

Why is food such a "taquito moment?" Because we truly are what we eat. By watching you order food, by noting where you shop for food, by seeing what you eat when no one thinks you're watching, I can learn everything there is to know about you.

I pay more for food not because I can afford to, but because the alternative is so much worse. I'm not a preacher about it, though; as Pollan notes, that's where we so often go wrong. But he's right: you should pay more for food, too.

And we should all, and I mean all, support local family farmers.

(That's with our wallets, folks, not just with our hypothetical good intentions.)


Blogger Erik Loomis said...

Michael Pollan is a really great writer. Along with John McPhee, Pollan is my favorite environmental writer of the present day. I'm glad that his new book is out and I highly recommend Second Nature: A Gardener's Education and Botany of Desire. Those are both top-notch books.

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Jessie said...

Oh dear. ANOTHER book for me to lust after... Can't wait to check this one out. Despite the fact that I'm still guilty of eating like an EMT on the job (even "healthy" fast food still blows), I do try to be pretty mindful about where my food comes from--I've had many a debate about why shopping at co-ops and farmers' markets is important and not some empty pretention for the rich (got me a good giggle out of being lumped in with "the rich" too!). Thanks for pointing this book out, Maggie!

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Michelle Meaders said...

Terry Gross interviewed Michael Pollan on Fresh Air today (heard on 89.1 KANW, our other public radio station, at 10 am weekdays).

Read about it and listen here:

9:23 PM  

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