Book: The Omnivore's Dilemma

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The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Author: Michael Pollan
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Publisher: Penguin Press

The bestselling author of The Botany of Desire explores the ecology of eating to unveil why we consume what we consume in the twenty-first century

“What should we have for dinner?” To one degree or another this simple question assails any creature faced with a wide choice of things to eat. Anthropologists call it the omnivore’s dilemma. Choosing from among the countless potential foods nature offers, humans have had to learn what is safe, and what isn’t-which mushrooms should be avoided, for example, and which berries we can enjoy. Today, as America confronts what can only be described as a national eating disorder, the omnivore’s dilemma has returned with an atavistic vengeance. The cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast-food outlet has thrown us back on a bewildering landscape where we once again have to worry about which of those tasty-looking morsels might kill us. At the same time we’re realizing that our food choices also have profound implications for the health of our environment. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is bestselling author Michael Pollan’s brilliant and eye-opening exploration of these little-known but vitally important dimensions of eating in America.

Pollan has divided The Omnivore’s Dilemma into three parts, one for each of the food chains that sustain us: industrialized food, alternative or “organic” food, and food people obtain by dint of their own hunting, gathering, or gardening. Pollan follows each food chain literally from the ground up to the table, emphasizing our dynamic coevolutionary relationship with the species we depend on. He concludes each section by sitting down to a meal—at McDonald’s, at home with his family sharing a dinner from Whole Foods, and in a revolutionary “beyond organic” farm in Virginia. For each meal he traces the provenance of everything consumed, revealing the hidden components we unwittingly ingest and explaining how our taste for particular foods reflects our environmental and biological inheritance.

We are indeed what we eat-and what we eat remakes the world. A society of voracious and increasingly confused omnivores, we are just beginning to recognize the profound consequences of the simplest everyday food choices, both for ourselves and for the natural world. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a long-overdue book and one that will become known for bringing a completely fresh perspective to a question as ordinary and yet momentous as What shall we have for dinner?

Reviews

Barnes and Noble

In the ancient days of hunter-gatherers, a wrong food choice could be one’s last, as a poison mushroom or toxic root could kill the most discriminating omnivore. Today, according to Botany of Desire author Michael Pollan, we face comparable dangers in the midst of plenitude. Pollan notes that Fast-Food America is experiencing what can only be described as a national eating disorder. With compelling precision, he describes how parallel food chains (industrialized food, alternative or “organic” food, and home-gathered food) reflect differences and similarities in our ecology of eating. A fascinating look behind the labels.

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