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On the Homestead Bookshelf: The Omnivore’s Dilemma January 26, 2008

Posted by Laura in Farm.

Ever since we moved to our rural oasis, we’re been reading everything we can get our hands on about gardening, animal husbandry, self-sufficiency, and the like. For quite some time, we’ve been meaning to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Just recently, I reserved a copy at the library.

When I brought it home, Joe pounced on it like a cat on a mouse. I already had a book going, so I let him have it first. We exceeded our limit on check-out time to both read it, so we finally purchased a copy for ourselves.

I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I checked it out, but it is not the dry read I thought it may be by the synopsis- tracing 4 meals beginning to end. I’d even consider it a “must-read” for anyone who eats.

In part one, the author traces his McDonald’s meal back to the Iowa cornfield from which a large portion came. He explains how our nation subsidizes corn production (at the continued expense of the farmer) and then how it invents uses for that corn that is sold below cost. He also follows a steer that is hamburger-patty-bound from its birth to its Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), and then on to slaughter. He explains how industrial meat operations have abandoned the natural feed and raising of animals in favor of quick fattening, often toxic confinement operations. Though much of this was not a big surprise to us, the statistical and insider information he was able to gather from those involved (from farmer to slaughterhouse designer) was truly astounding. It is very compelling and spurs us on all the more to produce as much of our own healthy food as possible.

The next section covers a farmer who is well-known for his pasture-raised meat and eggs. Joe and I have both read several books by this maverick farmer, Joel Salatin, who insists on producing food in the way God designed it to be done- in sunshine, with fresh air, and natural foods. Mr. Salatin is a bit of a hero to us since he is living the life we work towards.

The third part investigates “organic” and what happens when it goes “industrial.” I won’t say much more about that, but it was quite interesting also.

The final section is a meal the author forages entirely himself. He either hunted or gathered all the components. He tackles the morality of hunting and meat-eating in a pretty thorough way. I won’t spoil it for you about where he comes out on the issue in the end. He spends more time on the topic of mushroom hunting than I was interested in, but overall, this last meal was well worth reading about, too.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone who takes an interest in food, its origins, and their own health. My sole hesitation would be that the author sadly misses one integral part of the whole picture- God’s hand in it all. It appears that the author is an atheist, so some of his conclusions are odd and disjointed in my mind. How much more sense it all makes when one is willing to see God’s design and integration of all the parts!

Beyond that one criticism, it is a fascinating read. The author has a style that is easy to read, but packed with information. It is not shocking in the sense that The Jungle was, but still eye-opening. I will probably get the next book he wrote also.



1. julie - January 27, 2008

Thanks for the book review. I am always looking for interesting books to educate myself in this area. I had never heard of this book before so I will be sure to check it out. Have a blessed day.
grace and peace,

2. Sheryl Anderson - February 7, 2008

This book sounds very interesting. I may search for it online if it’s available in soft cover.

I bet the commercial food industry began long ago, of course, just to make food more readily available. Then, of course, greed found its way and turned it into a broken system just like everything else.

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