Saturday, May 26, 2007

Life isn't all Beef Steak and Skittles

Omnivore’s Dilemma
By Michael Pollan

Known among book clubs as the author of Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan follows up on his fifteen minutes of fame with another book about how millions of years of evolution can’t be all wrong while 60 years of industrial farming development certainly may be. That is, once people have moved away from being their own hunter-gatherers, deciding what to eat becomes a trickier question than seems readily apparent to most consumers.

The strong points of this book are its lively presentation of information, both researched from sources and from personal experience; the interesting and sympathetic people—both industrial food source producers and non-industrial food source producers and a problematic hybrid of the two, large-scale organic food producers—that Pollan introduces to readers. Pollan’s humor and reasoned approach to his topic are also refreshing.

A weakness of the writing is that some phrases and words are repeated more than felt felicitous for me. Pollan identifies his sections of the book as he investigates the different paths that food might take from living entity to food on the table, but in his reporting, he sometimes makes some large leaps in geography and time back and forth through his experiences. The repetition of phrases and words and ideas gives the book an aura of being a collection of articles on this topic. Still, while this weakens the book if one is reading straight through, it also means that one could read in any one section and have a coherent presentation of Pollan’s ideas and discoveries about the topic(s) under consideration.

I listened to the recorded book (on CD), and I think the redundancy was helpful in that format (even though I noticed it and it disconcerted me enough that I had to examine what I really felt about the repetitions), because if I missed a point, he would remind the reader about it a little later on. (Not as a reminder, as such, but just in the course of bringing the same point to bear in another sub-topic.)

I’ll feel differently about what I eat from now on. I won’t necessarily stop eating over-processed foods based on unnatural uses of corn and corn by-products, but I’ll be more conscious when I do eat them. In any case, Pollan is persuasive without being strident and reasoned without being boring.

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