Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Many books on food and diet are boring. Reason examines one with an intriguing difference:

As any TV news junkie could tell you, American food is a world in disarray. We're fat, sick, and sick of being fat, thanks to partially hydrogenated soybean oil, hormone-laden beef, and pesticide-coated cauliflower. Every local news station runs a weekly horrifying food-related exposé—some true, some false, all accompanied by a B-roll of big bellies. And when our food isn't a threat to us, we're a threat to our food: Chickens and cows, we're told, are being mistreated nationwide. The proposed solutions run the gamut from big government to huge government: new labeling requirements, bans on trans fats and soda machines in schools, lawsuits against McDonald's.

In the midst of all the chaos sits Michael Pollan, calmly nibbling a piece of homemade boar prosciutto and ruminating, "Let them eat cake made with unbleached organic flour and fresh butter from the local creamery." Pollan is the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, an irritatingly excellent book. The reporting is illuminating, the writing is clear and swift, and I'm furious at myself for not having thought of the concept first. In this "Natural History of Four Meals," Pollan traces the ingredients of four meals from field to table: an industrial fast food lunch at McDonald's, a "big organic" winter supper from Whole Foods, a "local" dinner from a small farm in Virginia, and a final meal that he hunts, gathers, and cooks himself.

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