The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
By Michael Pollan
Penguin Group; $26.95
Walmart’s recent announcement that it will make organically grown food available at prices only 10 percent higher than its conventional groceries may not be a good thing in the long run. Rather, it brings industrial agriculture and feedlot values to the table of what was once a discussion about health, animal rights and environmental responsibility — and ultimately, all of us pay the price.
This conflict is fully outlined in Michael Pollan’s latest first-person journalistic endeavor: the monumental volume The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Here’s a for instance: If you think you’re doing the environment good by shopping at Wild Oats and other chain “natural food” grocery stores, let alone Walmart, Pollan proposes you should think again. While it may be the lesser of two evils, that organically grown asparagus you purchased last winter, out of season in these parts, was actually grown in Chile, which means the “real” cost was in petroleum. That asparagus spear had to get here somehow.
Our demands as consumers, Pollen infers, have become irresponsible: Must we have fresh tomatoes and raspberries year-round?
If you knew the conditions even some “organic” animals endured in their short, miserable lives before they became meat would you still want to eat them? For instance, industrial feedlot cows are fed corn and even parts of other cows, rather than the grasses they are biologically geared to eat. Culinary irresponsibility is a matter of degree, and this is the crux of the omnivore’s dilemma.
Pollan analyzes four different meals and the real costs involved in putting them on the table, from obesity to dependence on foreign oil. A fast-food meal from McDonald’s eaten in transit, an organically grown meal made from groceries purchased from Whole Foods Market, a meal made from food produced at a “poly-culture” farm where the animals comprise a sustainable ecosystem — living lives as nature intended and producing no waste — and, finally, a meal made from Pollan’s own hunting and gathering. The conclusion is not a surprise: The meal he feels best about, and that tastes the best, is the one that it cost the least to produce — monetarily and morally (with the exception, for some, of the hunting of wild boar). If there’s a moral to the story, it is this: Eat local as much as possible.