The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Michael Pollan. We show our surprise at this by speaking of something called the “French paradox,” for how could a people who eat such demonstrably toxic substances as foie gras and triple crème cheese actually be slimmer and healthier than we are? The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Evolution of the Brain and the Determinants of Food Choice. The intricacies of this process are worth following, since they go some distance toward explaining how corn could have conquered our diet and, in turn, more of the earth’s surface than virtually any other domesticated species, our own included. The new diet books, many of them inspired by the formerly discredited Dr. Robert C. Atkins, brought Americans the welcome news that they could eat more meat and lose weight just so long as they laid off the bread and pasta. And if a vegetarian, a lacto-vegetarian or a vegan? In the book he follows four meals from the very beginning of the food chain to his plate. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world—and what is to become of it. Valuable as corn is as a means of subsistence, the kernel’s qualities make it an excellent means of accumulation as well. A food chain is a system for passing those calories on to species that lack the plant’s unique ability to synthesize them from sunlight. Hybrid corn now offered its breeders what no other plant at that time could: the biological equivalent of a patent. and toward nutritious plants (The red berries are the juicier, sweeter ones). You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition. I don’t need to experiment with the mushroom now called, rather helpfully, the “death cap,” and it is common knowledge that that first intrepid lobster eater was on to something very good. To some extent this holds true for all of the plants and animals that take part in the grand coevolutionary bargain with humans we call agriculture. Our taste buds help too, predisposing us toward sweetness, which signals carbohydrate energy in nature, and away from bitterness, which is how many of the toxic alkaloids produced by plants taste. The free corn sex I’ve described allowed people to do virtually anything they wanted with the genetics of corn except own them—a big problem for a would-be capitalist plant. Compromise. Cooking opened up whole new vistas of edibility by rendering various plants and animals more digestible, and overcoming many of the chemical defenses other species deploy against being eaten. I would recommend this book to anybody, not only interested in food but human nature, the relationships between plants, animals, and fungi, government, and an opportunity for a richer, more natural life. My first impression was more shambling Gentle Ben than fiery prairie populist, but I would discover that Naylor can be either fellow, the mere mention of “Cargill” or “Earl Butz” supplying the transformational trigger. Rather, it’s meant to acknowledge their abiding dependence on this miraculous grass, the staple of their diet for almost nine thousand years. The scientist can do this because all carbon is not created equal. All rights reserved. Better eating in a nutshell. Plants? The corporation, assured for the first time of a return on its investment in breeding, showered corn with attention—R&D, promotion, advertising—and the plant responded, multiplying its fruitfulness year after year. Responses to The Omnivore’s Dilemma. What happens next is very strange. The most impressive thing about the Omnivore's Dilemma is how well it has held up in the dozen years since it was first published. Well, I wasn’t as late as I feared, and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” found a much larger audience than I ever dared to hope. If you do manage to regard the supermarket through the eyes of a naturalist, your first impression is apt to be of its astounding biodiversity. To wash down your chicken nuggets with virtually any soft drink in the supermarket is to have some corn with your corn. If what goes on in the US eventually comes here, we had brace ourselves. And, most recently, industry has allowed us to reinvent the human food chain, from the synthetic fertility of the soil to the microwaveable can of soup designed to fit into a car’s cup holder. About Michael Pollan. We are indeed what we eat, and what we eat remakes the world. ), Corn won over the wheat people because of its versatility, prized especially in new settlements far from civilization. The science works by identifying stable isotopes of carbon in human tissue that bear the signatures, in effect, of the different types of plants that originally took them from the air and introduced them into the food chain. The surprising answers Pollan offers to the simple question posed by this book have profound political, economic, psychological, and even moral implications for all of us. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting. “When you look at the isotope ratios,” Todd Dawson, a Berkeley biologist who’s done this sort of research, told me, “we North Americans look like corn chips with legs.” Compared to us, Mexicans today consume a far more varied carbon diet: the animals they eat still eat grass (until recently, Mexicans regarded feeding corn to livestock as a sacrilege); much of their protein comes from legumes; and they still sweeten their beverages with cane sugar. After the crop has supplied its farmer’s needs, he can go to market with any surplus, dried corn being the perfect commodity: easy to transport and virtually indestructible. The eggs are made of corn. Many of the problems of health and nutrition we face today trace back to things that happen on the farm, and behind those things stand specific government policies few of us know anything about. INTRODUCTION Our National Eating Disorder. But it also seems to have an agenda I am not sure I share, rather than being a dispassionate analysis. In Mr Michael Pollan's book Omnivore's Dilemma, he illustrates to us the tricky situation faced by humans, an omnivorous species. Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2016, Reviewed in the United States on July 4, 2017, Omnivore's Dilemma was assigned to me in an upper-level economics course, along with other similar books. So far, this reckless-seeming act of evolutionary faith in us has been richly rewarded. The cornucopia of the American supermarket has thrown us back on a bewildering food landscape where we once again have to worry that some of those tasty-looking morsels might kill us. I enjoyed the language and style of writing even though it was complicated and slightly hard to understand in some spots. The book’s second part follows what I call—to distinguish it from the industrial—the pastoral food chain. The fact that today one so often does suggests a pretty good start on a working definition of industrial food: Any food whose provenance is so complex or obscure that it requires expert help to ascertain. There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn. Though it might not always seem that way, even the deathless Twinkie is constructed out of…well, precisely what I don’t know offhand, but ultimately some sort of formerly living creature, i.e., a species. Corn is the protocapitalist plant. Exterminate the species, Sheridan advised, and “[t]hen your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy.” In outline Sheridan’s plan was the plan for the whole continent: The white man brought his own “associate species” with him to the New World—cattle and apples, pigs and wheat, not to mention his accustomed weeds and microbes—and wherever possible helped them to displace the native plants and animals allied with the Indian. True, I was no longer aghast at the information shared--there is now a mountain of irrefutable evidence that Big Agri and the Food Industry work hand in glove to feed us little better than garbage--chemical simulations of meals. I found this book by accident - it was recommended in the appendix of another book I was reading about (of all things) beer. It would not be susceptible to the pendulum swings of food scares or fads, to the apotheosis every few years of one newly discovered nutrient and the demonization of another. The dual identity also made corn indispensable to the slave trade: Corn was both the currency traders used to pay for slaves in Africa and the food upon which slaves subsisted during their passage to America. The only way to recruit these carbon atoms for the molecules necessary to support life—the carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins, and lipids—is by means of photosynthesis. Next And the Band Played … I bought this on the recommendation of a friend of mine who is a farmer, and who claimed this chap "knew more than anyone else about where our food comes from", and I can see why he said that. The trans fats or the butter or the “not butter”? He believed that our… Certainly the extraordinary abundance of food in America complicates the whole problem of choice. Over there’s your eggplant, onion, potato, and leek; here your apple, banana, and orange. Without the “fruitfulness” of Indian corn, the nineteenth-century English writer William Cobbett declared, the colonists would never have been able to build “a powerful nation.” Maize, he wrote, was “the greatest blessing God ever gave to man.”. A longtime contributor to the New York Times Magazine, he also teaches writing at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Only the New York Times would be dumb enough to believe the Farm Bureau still speaks for American farmers!”) led me to expect someone considerably more ornery than the shy fellow who climbed down from his tractor cab to greet me in the middle of a field in the middle of a slate-gray day threatening rain. A mutation this freakish and maladaptive would have swiftly brought the plant to an evolutionary dead end had one of these freaks not happened to catch the eye of a human somewhere in Central America who, looking for something to eat, peeled open the husk to free the seeds. Each of this book’s three parts follows one of the principal human food chains from beginning to end: from a plant, or group of plants, photosynthesizing calories in the sun, all the way to a meal at the dinner end of that food chain. American Indians were the world’s first plant breeders, developing literally thousands of distinct cultivars for every conceivable environment and use. Its not a book which will help us feed the world, but it will help individuals eat better. Another theme, or premise really, is that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Originally, the atoms of carbon from which we’re made were floating in the air, part of a carbon dioxide molecule. To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number. Spritzed with morning dew every few minutes, Produce is the only corner of the supermarket where we’re apt to think “Ah, yes, the bounty of Nature!” Which probably explains why such a garden of fruits and vegetables (sometimes flowers, too) is what usually greets the shopper coming through the automatic doors. Corn’s success might seem fated in retrospect, but it was not something anyone would have predicted on that day in May 1493 when Columbus first described the botanical oddity he had encountered in the New World to Isabella’s court. It had to multiply its yield by an order of magnitude, which it did by learning to grow shoulder to shoulder with other corn plants, as many as thirty thousand to the acre. 17-20 -Video Upload powered by https://www.TunesToTube.com Ecology also teaches that all life on earth can be viewed as a competition among species for the solar energy captured by green plants and stored in the form of complex carbon molecules. Maize is self-fertilized and wind-pollinated, botanical terms that don’t begin to describe the beauty and wonder of corn sex. Indeed, in the last few years a whole catalog of exotic species from the tropics has colonized, and considerably enlivened, the produce department. There was a problem loading your book clubs. So do the various adaptations we’ve evolved to defeat the defenses of other creatures so that we might eat them, including our skills at hunting and cooking with fire. After a grain of pollen has fallen through the air and alighted on the moistened tip of silk, its nucleus divides in two, creating a pair of twins, each with the same set of genes but a completely different role to perform in the creation of the kernel. I had a feeling I would like this book and I was right. The silks emerge from the husk on the very day the tassel is set to shower its yellow dust. The ' Omnivore's Dilemma ' is an extremely useful concept for understanding some of the paradoxes in human behaviour and psychology. 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). For modified or unmodified starch, for glucose syrup and maltodextrin, for crystalline fructose and ascorbic acid, for lecithin and dextrose, lactic acid and lysine, for maltose and HFCS, for MSG and polyols, for the caramel color and xanthan gum, read: corn. It is tempting to think of maize as a human artifact, since the plant is so closely linked to us and so strikingly different from any wild species. Although I am from the UK many practices in the US are going on over here. Each time Pollan sits down to a meal, he deploys his unique blend of personal and investigative journalism to trace the origins of everything consumed, revealing what we unwittingly ingest and explaining how our taste for particular foods and flavors reflects our evolutionary inheritance. How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu? Hybridization represents a far swifter and more efficient means of communication, or feedback loop, between plant and human; by allowing humans to arrange its marriages, corn can discover in a single generation precisely what qualities it needs to prosper. I don’t mean to suggest that human food chains have only recently come into conflict with the logic of biology; early agriculture and, long before that, human hunting proved enormously destructive. How do the alchemies of the kitchen transform the raw stuffs of nature into some of the great delights of human culture? He's also the author of the audiobook Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World. The book lays its emphasis on whether people should eat fast foods or organic foods. But of all the human environments to which corn has successfully adapted since then, the adaptation to our own—the world of industrial consumer capitalism; the world, that is, of the supermarket and fast-food franchise—surely represents the plant’s most extraordinary evolutionary achievement to date. The rat must make this all-important distinction more or less on its own, each individual figuring out for itself—and then remembering—which things will nourish and which will poison. Look how many different plants and animals (and fungi) are represented on this single acre of land! From the very lengthy list of books, this and. Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2017. Once you get into the processed foods you have to be a fairly determined ecological detective to follow the intricate and increasingly obscure lines of connection linking the Twinkie, or the nondairy creamer, to a plant growing in the earth someplace, but it can be done. The usual way a domesticated species figures out what traits its human ally will reward is through the slow and wasteful process of Darwinian trial and error. The rich descriptions of landscapes and emotions, took me through a range of feelings and made me confront "the omnivores dilemma" head on. Efficiency and Utility. (He subsequently bought another 150 acres.) Something went wrong. The mechanics of corn sex, and in particular the great distance over open space corn pollen must travel to complete its mission, go a long way toward accounting for the success of maize’s alliance with humankind. There would have been a fair amount of corn then too, but also fruits and other vegetables, as well as oats, hay, and alfalfa to feed the pigs, cattle, chickens, and horses—horses being the tractors of that time. When I started trying to follow the industrial food chain—the one that now feeds most of us most of the time and typically culminates either in a supermarket or fast-food meal—I expected that my investigations would lead me to a wide variety of places. Corn is the hero of its own story, and though we humans played a crucial supporting role in its rise to world domination, it would be wrong to suggest we have been calling the shots, or acting always in our own best interests. The sight of such soil, pushing up and then curling back down behind the blade of his plow like a thick black wake behind a ship, must have stoked his confidence, and justifiably so: It’s gorgeous stuff, black gold as deep as you can dig, as far as you can see. 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