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The Omnivores Dilemma Review Essay Topics

1-Sentence-Summary: The Omnivore’s Dilemma explains the paradox of food choices we face today, how the industrial revolution changed the way we eat and see food today and which food choices are the most ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Read in: 4 minutes

Favorite quote from the author:

What should you have for dinner? Simple question, right?

At least it was until a few thousand and even a few hundred years ago. You ate what was available during that season, sold by the farmer that day.

But today everything is available, all the time, wherever you are.

So what do you eat to stay healthy, make economic choices, not hurt the environment and do the right thing?

Michael Pollan helps you answer this now so complicated question in his 2006 book, named one of the five best non-fiction books of the year by The New York Times.

Here are 3 lessons you can learn from it:

  1. Corn is the root of the problem.
  2. Organic often doesn’t mean what you think it does.
  3. Buy local to win on every level.

Want to improve your food choices? Here we go!

Lesson 1: It all started with corn.

In theory, corn is a great plant.

It’s highly adaptable, very resistant, and grows in large quantities fast. When the Europeans first landed in the US and discovered it, it quickly became a household name for farmers.

But you can overdo even the best thing.

Technology has advanced so far that we can now alter plants at the genetic level, and the corn industrial farmers grow now has little to do with its ancestor.

In 1920 a farmer could comfortably produce 20 bushels of corn per acre. That figure has shot to 180 today – a 9x increase!

10 years ago, it cost a farmer $2.50 to produce a bushel, but due to the already flooded market, buyers only wanted to pay $1.45.

When the government agreed to match the difference, and thus gave the farmers an artificial profit for producing corn, it ruined the supply and demand cycle of corn.

Farmers can make a ton of money from producing corn and continue to grow more and more, even though the market’s demand has long been saturated.

The excess corn is what lands in your food in the form of high fructose corn syrup and other highly processed derivatives, and is fed to all kinds of animals, who aren’t natural corn eaters, like cows, chicken and even carnivore’s like salmon.

Lesson 2: Organic is not as clean as you think it is.

Alright, alright, maybe you knew that already.

At the very least, I’m sure you were aware that the whole processed food industry is not the greenest choice you can make.

But what about organic food?

Originally started as a counter-movement to processed and industrialized food, due to its popularity, organic food as a label has been swept up by the processed food lobby.

Plenty of the small farms that came from the organic movement had to either let go of some of their standards in order to supply the growing demand for organic food, or go out of business.

As organic businesses grew, standards were lowered, and now food companies can cut corners and still get away with labels like “organic” and “free-range”.

For example, would you call 20,000 chickens in a shed with a two-week mini vacation in the tiny back yard free-range?

The food industry would.

And what the hell is “organic high fructose corn syrup”? That stuff is one of the most artificial things ever produced.

But what to do then?

Lesson 3: If you buy locally, you win on all levels.

Two words: Buy. Locally.

Get your food from small, local farms, and everyone will win, including you.

Here are several reasons why.

Due to the reduction in distance that your food travels until it eventually lands on your plate, less fuel and resources are used, making this the environmentally friendlier alternative.

Economically, you put money into the hands of the right people: small businesses. As long as we give the majority of our money to big corporations, they’ll be the ones in charge.

The quality of your food is increased, because it’s grown in according to the season and natural circumstances on site, which makes pesticides and other artificial support unnecessary.

Ethically, this is a no brainer, and it also holds your farmer, butcher and baker accountable. When they know you’re passing by their store every day, they’re much less likely to mistreat animals or plants, because of their personal relationship with you.

So start by skipping the supermarket once in a while and look at the options right in front of you.

My personal take-aways

Better eating in a nutshell. Even better: This book does it without telling you to eat a specific diet. Of course there are benefits to eating a more plant-focused diet rather than having meat 7 times a week, but this is none of the books that proclaim one particular diet as the solution (which is BS anyways, by the way).

There are many more eye-opening, sometimes even horrific facts, in both the book and the summary on Blinkist, making this a true wake-up call.

The summary was very well structured, you could sense a common thread being woven well throughout, very good, especially considering the book looks at the problem from 4 different angles.

Thumbs up!

Read full summary on Blinkist

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Learn more about the author

What else can you learn from the blinks?

  • How it’s possible for you to eat fresh Asparagus in the US in January
  • Where all the excess corn lands and how it helps food companies overcome the fixed stomach problem
  • What a CAFO is and how it brought down the price of meat substantially
  • The terrible things that happen in CAFO’s and how they make animals, and ultimately us, sick
  • What the benefits of organic food are (there sure are some!)
  • How management-intensive grazing could easily and sustainably replace the corn craze

Who would I recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma summary to?

The 17 year old who usually doesn’t look at food labels when she goes to the supermarket to buy her favorite cereal, the 27 year old millennial, who thinks he’s got it figured out by just buying organic, and anyone who buys at the local butchery or bakery in town less than once a week.

A joy of writing for TreeHugger is that one learns so much, about things we never thought much about before. This may make us a lousy book reviewer, because we are certainly not experts in the subjects of the books we are reading and tend to gush. We learned about peak oil from James Howard Kunstler; about global warming from Tim Flannery, and now about food from Michael Pollan, and true to form we gush again.

The Omnivore's dilemma is this: When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety. The Koala doesn't worry about food- he just chews eucalyptus leaves. Rats and humans have bigger issues. Pollan says that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. He is no vegan, but is a cook and appalled by modern industrial food production, and how it separates us from the sources of our food. Pollan looks at the three principal food chains : Industrial, Organic and Hunter/Gatherer and has a meal from each.If you eat industrially, you are made of corn. It holds together your McNuggets, it sweetens your soda pop, it fattens your meat, it is everywhere. You are also partially fossil fuel- the corn needs a lot of nitrogen and gets it from fertilizer instead of the soil, which used to get it from rotating crops. The corn is fed to cows who are designed to eat grass and get sick from it, so they are pumped with antibiotics. It is fed to us in many forms, because it is cheap- a dollar buys you 875 calories in soda pop but only 170 in fruit juice. The meal was a McDonalds, and was analyzed as almost entirely corn. He does not seem to have enjoyed it very much. For this reader, this section was by far the most shocking- industrial agriculture exposed as nothing but a giant yellow matrix.

Section Two covers the Organic industry, and is far more bucolic. Here, all is grass. Much of the chapter is spent on Joe Salatin's very doctrinaire and remarkable farm. However you will not find his foods in your Whole Foods- he only sells locally. The larger organic industry covers many different interpretations of organic, some of which are pretty borderline but all are better than anything from the corn economy. However the organic food industry is huge; transportation is a major cost. Pollan thinks that industrial organic is a contradiction in terms and is unsustainable, "floating on a stinking sea of petroleum". We may all be eating the 100 mile diet soon, whether we want to or not. The meal sounded good, but a little heavy on the diesel fuel.

We won't go into the hunting and gathering Section in detail; this TreeHugger has never held a gun and doesn't get it. I do have to say that the meal sounded absolutely fabulous.

This TreeHugger has started feeling really guilty every time meat passes our lips- Elisa's lessons on Veganism impressed us. However after reading this book it is clear that we all have to change our eating habits-. Buying organic asparagus flown in from Argentina is no more morally defensible than eating a locally and sustainably raised cow. Finding my nearest farmers market has never seemed more important.

Michael Pollan is a fabulous writer. The Omnivore's Dilemmna is entertaining, funny and easy to read. I have read few books where I had such a good time learning so much. ::The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan available at ::Amazon

You can read the introduction and first chapter online at Michael Pollan's Website.