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kevbo's avatar

Has anyone read The Omnivore's Dilemma?

Asked by kevbo (24117 points ) October 15th, 2007

I’m two chapters from finishing and ready to chuck it all, start a farm, and/or learn to hunt.

Am I delusional or is it any wonder we’ve multiplied our epidemic ailments?

Where do you sit with respect to conventional vs. big organic vs. local/sustainable (the Polyface Farm example)? How have you changed your shopping habits as a result?

Did you have a clue about the pervasiveness and prostitution subsidization and commoditization of corn, (e.g. making it the primary feed for cows because in the U.S. it’s the most subsidized cheapest form of plant energy despite the fact that cows don’t naturally have the stomach to digest a corn diet)?

Did you realize that “free range” legally can mean a small plot of yard just outside a typical, football-field-sized chicken growing facility?

What’s your take on America’s lack of collective wisdom when it comes to food and nutrition (say, in contrast to the Japanese, French, or Italians)? How do you personally react to America’s constantly changing diet rules? (Eggs are bad. Eggs are good. Red meat is bad. Red meat is good. Carbs are bad. Carbs are good.) If outside the U.S., what’s your perspective?

Do you believe that hunting is ethical in our day and age? Do you side with animal rights in the sense that individual animals shouldn’t be hurt or instead that individual animals should be “managed” for the betterment of their and/or other species (such as killing a population of animals to restore ecological balance)?

Any other online/book resources you care to point me to?

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9 Answers

segdeha's avatar

A few years ago, I read Fast Food Nation and it forever changed how I looked at my place in the food chain. That awakening led me—eventually, and with prodding from my vegan wife—to the point where I am now vegetarian. That in no way makes me a perfect food consumer, but I feel like it helps me have a little less impact than I would if I still ate meat. I grew up in the U.S., but I now live in New Zealand. Here there is more popular aversion to genetically engineered foods. Also, I could be wrong, but factory farms here seem a lot less industrial than ones in the States.

syz's avatar

Micheal Pollen will indeed put you off of food. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 15 years now – not necessarily because of any ethical consideration, but because of American agri-business. When people ask me why I’m a veggie, I tell them that I don’t like to eat shit (e. coli scares and food poisoning on a mass scale result in recommendations to increase cooking time rather than recommendations to clean up meat processing). I’m not what would be considered a “granola”. It’s hard, but I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible and if I could afford it, I’d eat organic all of the time. I look around at americans and think it’s no wonder we’re fat, cancerous, hypertensive, and Alzheimers ridden.

gailcalled's avatar

I’ve read all of Michael Pollan’s books and also FAST FOOD NATION and found them powerful and life-altering. I, too, have changed dramatically my way of shopping and eating – no longer any animal protein and using my own containers and cloth bags for all shopping.

Kev’s questions are part of the complex dilemma of our day. I certainly have no answers but do think about these issues all the time. Here, we have just started a local organic, 100 mile, food coop. And a young friend of mine in SF hasa site that deals w. these issues -voting w. your fork, he calls it.
http://www.3votesaday.org/index.html

However, for 20 yrs. I have allowed the same father/son team to hunt deer on my property. They eat them; and the herd has become too big and predacious and does need thinning. Better, I think, than to be smashed by a car and left, half-dead, by the side of the road – a common sight.

So, what to eat. A tomato and kale sandwich?

susanc's avatar

Great discussion.
My book group read TOD and then moved on to the much less beautifully written but
very informative Barbara Kingsolver book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, about her family’s decision to live off their own produce for a year. It’s an annoying book if you don’t like constant little witticisms – I usually do, but these got on my nerves for some reason – but the amount of sheer physical work that goes into this life is illuminating, and the technical end of preserving food as well as growing it is fabulously useful.
I would advise anyone beginning The O.D. to absolutely read it all the way through before going ballistic, because Pollan himself addresses a lot of the questions we all
confront about how to live with all of this.
We have not gone veg as a result of these 2 books (plus Fast Food Nation, read in hardbound when it first came out aren’t we cool), but we grow more vegetables than we used to, buy more organic than we used to, especially broccoli which we eat a great deal of and which is an excellent carrier of pesticides if these are used on it, and we no longer buy meat that hasn’t been organically/“naturally”/REALLY free-range/no-hormone raised. This means we eat less meat because that stuff is pricey. But the difference in flavor between a $3.60/lb chicken and a $1.30/lb chicken is phenomenal. We find we can stretch it further and use every drop of stock made from it to flavor everything else. We grow greens, potatoes, tomatoes, and herbs. We will be joining a CSA next year when we move closer to the distribution center and will continue to grow the stuff we already grow.
My husband was inspired by the discussion around all this to buy an old Mercedes diesel and convert it to use vegetable oil which he gets for nothing from a couple of restaurants. His license plate says GREASY1. People ask him why the car smells the way it does and he becomes a teacher. (It smells like the back exhaust fan at
McDonald’s). (Delicious).
We do not hunt because we’re afraid of guns, but we used to raise chickens for eggs and they were utterly fabulous. Bright orange yolks that stood up like beach balls.
Easy to do. Then a mink came one night and killed every single one. We were never able to eat our own chickens (though I did cull some extra roosters, all alone because my husband and teenage boys were too delicate). The discomfort Pollan describes when helping with chicken slaughter really couldn’t be overcome. One of our boys and I raised 3 pigs one year and they were delicious. We had a meat service do the honors, carrying them away in a truck and turning them into nice packages in white freezer paper and labelled with the names of the cuts.
In sum – let’s keep talking. Every single thing we do counts. And makes us happier.

A last note: people who live in traditional cultures, e.g. southern Italy, southern Mexico where the same people have eaten the same four ingredients for 5,000 years,
traditionally isolated Japan, and so on – these people have had time to become very inventive with relatively few types of food resources. (There was an article in the New Yorker in the last couple of years about the plethora of different tofu variants, including a controlled rotting, in the way Europeans learned to rot milk to make cheeses.) In America today we import anything we want, so we think we need a huge variety of items. We don’t. Limitation of ingredients propels makes a cuisine. Pollan talks about this too.

christybird's avatar

It’s interesting, because becoming more informed about the environmental impacts of the food I eat actually led to me switching from a vegetarian diet to a meat-eating diet…living in Minnesota in the winter, it was hard for me to justify eating organic spring mix from California instead of local organic free-range meat, eggs and dairy. Especially because the organic spring mix was from some of the huge organic mega-corporations (“Earthbound Farms,” “Muir Valley,” etc. – how green can a company that big really be?) compared to local farmers whose farms I could (and did) visit.

Also, in terms of environmental impact – the diversity of birds, insects, plants, etc. you get in an area with row crops (soybeans or corn) is MUCH lower than the biodiversity of pastures and hayfields. A lot of (formerly) grassland bird species are actually quite dependent on hayfields for breeding habitat, because most of their native grassland habitat has been destroyed. Whereas almost nothing can live in a corn field – especially if it’s Roundup-ready GMO corn that gets the bejeezus sprayed out of it.

I still think it’s important to think about where you’re eating on the food chain, but that’s not everything. You really have to take the local vs. non-local, small farm vs. huge corporate farm, growing season, etc. aspects into consideration. I think a small family farm committed to sustainability, even if it’s not certified organic, is almost always better than a huge organic mega-business, that often adheres to the letter, but not the spirit, of the organic regulatory laws. And you’re not using as many fossil fuels to transport the product from the farm to your table.

Just a few thoughts. I am enjoying this discussion immensely!

tonystubblebine's avatar

I also read The China Study, and found that more compelling as far as actually changing my lifestyle. It summarizes all of the research from cellular to community levels about the harmful effects of a diet high in animal protein. The key for me to eat more whole fruits, nuts, and vegetables was to find an easy way to get good ones. We joined two local CSA’s, which is basically a farm collective that you subscribe to and then they send you a box of fruits/veggies every week. I lost weight and feel better. That’s not a surprise. What is a surprise is that I tend to enjoy the fresh food as much or more than I enjoyed my old way of eating.

segdeha's avatar

The relationship between the FDA, USDA and big agri-business is one of the significant reasons I moved my family from the U.S. to New Zealand. Commondreams.org recently had a chilling article on the subject.

weerez's avatar

segdeha, just a little interesting fact – New Zealand has the highest incidence of cancer of the intestine, and eats the most beef according to WHO. Yes, higher than the U.S.

segdeha's avatar

@weerez, No question, NZ is chock full of fleshatarians. My point was just that farming (and ranching) is still done on a more human scale here, a little less industrial, no genetically engineered crap (yet, at least), etc.

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