Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
IF you want to read a book that may put you off your feed permanently, try The Omnivore's Dilemma. I listened to the (excellent) audiobook in my car, which might not have been the best venue, since some of the descriptions (gutting a wild boar, for example, or descriptions of the conditions of hens in commercial egg factories) are so vivid and disgusting that I nearly was ill in the car.
Michael Pollan's dual quests were to discover the precise provenance of food, and to create a meal from ingredients he had grown, caught, killed, or foraged -- in other words, to become mindful of his food. Mindfulness itself can be interpreted as mind-full, as in fact-gathering, or mindful, as in granting the current experience the respect of full attention.
Some of the facts and experiences that Pollan shares are delightful -- the subculture of mushroom-hunters, for example, itinerants who inhabit the sub-culture of forests in search of their strange crops, or the beauty of the yolk of one fresh, perfect egg. Other facts about the way our industrial/agricultural system grows and harvests its food (our food) (particularly the meats) are so horrific that I can not imagine how they can be legal, no less government-subsidized. Pollan spares us nothing, neither the horrific nor the beautiful, in this combination of investigative reporting and memoir. Fortunately, he is a personable and reasonable writer who can poke fun at himself without becoming cute. The meal he prepares at the end of the book is not quite what he had intended, since he was forced into some compromises -- the salt he had gathered from the ocean tasted so toxic that it was unusable, for example. It certainly did not tickle my appetite, since the idea of eating any meat, no less from a wild pig, is too revolting to consider! But the point of his meal, the mindfulness of its preparation, can be relished by all.
(Cross-posted from Tea Leaves...)