a book about the omnivore’s dilemma

imagethe omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals (2006) by michael pollan traces “from earth to plate” four representative meals emanating from three principal food chains that sustain us:  the industrial, the pastoral & the hunter-gatherer \ the result is a mind opening exposition of the impact of how we produce our food on how we consume as well as our relationship with food / the book speaks only about what has happened in the united states \ it won the 2007 james beard book award/writing on food category

for humans & rats,  the question “what’s for dinner?” poses the omnivore’s dilemma / while this can be a life & death decision for rats, humans are guided not only by instinct  <disgust prevents us from eating rotten meat for example> but also by culture such as with our recipes, traditional meals, comfort foods, food combinations, when to eat what, etc. \ which distinguishes us from animals & which i think makes the omnivore’s dilemma a thoughtful process – for better & for worse / in answer to the omnivore’s dilemma, we have responded with ingenuity & calculation and with not much forethought about the consequences / one of the negative consequences is the development & proliferation of highly processed food that have contributed to contemporary health problems such as obesity

the short tale of the book is that we have moved away from pastoral to industrial farming with far-reaching consequences to the environment and to our health / the goal of industrialization is efficiency and to achieve this, farming is reduced from a natural cycle <to which pastoral farming adheres> to a linear process of inputs & outputs

to illustrate in a simple manner, the natural cycle counts on the interdependence of the farming ecosystem to transform sun energy into steak :: sunlight triggers photosynthesis in plants -> grass feeds cattle [grass farming is made sustainable by respecting the natural cyle & its players, e.g., promoting soil fertility with the help of crop rotation & chickens/pigs having a run of the grounds, cattle grazing, animal wastes as fertilizers] -> cattle made into steak ::

industrialization produces food differently / there is significant human & scientific intervention involved \ we are all aware of the use of synthetic fertilizers on the soil, pesticides on plants and antibiotics & growth hormones on animals / “necessary” because nature is not on an industrial production cycle \ more disturbing is how industrialization forces change in the nature & character of animals such as feeding corn to ruminants such as cows who were made by nature to eat grass <corn makes them sick> & treating them as production units & machines <facilitated in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs): hotbed for animal diseases thus the need for preventive antibiotics> instead of viewing them as helpers & producers and allowing them their natural behaviour

that said, we cannot understate the benefits of food industrialization \ it has made food cheaper & more widely available and therefore enabled us to feed larger populations & also grow local & global economies / i think we have reached a critical point where we are experiencing the detrimental effects of food industrialization on a mass scale <in the form of environmental degradation & health problems such as obesity & diabetes manifesting in young people> \ and i agree with pollan that part of this is because the u.s. does not have a unifying food culture & tradition <and also because our culture thrives on & hankers for innovation & new things = which is not a bad thing, i think it is a very good thing>  /making its people susceptible to the latest food fads & trends that are not necessarily good for our long-term health <carbs only diet, no carbs diet,  vegetarian|vegan diet, low fat|no fat products, diet this & that (oxymorons in my opinion), TV dinners, microwavable foods, convenience foods, etc.> \ and the food industry|companies and its marketers are its enablers / they who produce & market artificial foods from where we get artificial <or real> nutrients in fast, convenient forms

i know exactly what pollan means about food culture & traditions / a well-meaning relative told me years ago that white rice was not good for me & that i should cut back on it or switch to brown rice \ i was taken aback and offended by that comment / it was like a criticism of my culture \ rice is a staple in the culture that i was born & raised in /obesity is not an epidemic in the philippines like it is in the u.s. & largely because of our food traditions \ the way we eat rice is that it is one component of a meal, alongside meat & vegetables and is not a meal in itself <unless you make paella> / so this is the basic filipino food theme for a breakfast|lunch|dinner meal:  rice, meat, vegetables

filipino food culture & traditions consist of regional cuisine differences which depend on the geography & therefore availability of ingredients:  meat <fish, chicken, pork, goat, beef = beef being the most expensive & fish, the cheapest>, vegetables, fruits <tamarind, guava, kamias are used as souring ingredients depending on the meat | no need for artificial ingredients> & other plants <coconut producing regions tend to use a lot of coconut ingredients in their cuisine> \ being a tropical country, there is wide diversity in plant foods & because the regions have their own cuisine, there is no need to be transporting ingredients from one place to another to satisfy its traditions / the diversity of foods has also gotten us used to honoring the seasonality of fruits & vegetables

of course, the u.s. does have food traditions \ most cultures do / just yesterday, most of us partook of an outstanding american food tradition \ the thanksgiving feast of turkey with stuffing & gravy accompanied by green bean casserole, cranberry relish, roasted corn, yams & mashed potatoes / but as an outsider looking in, i cannot guess what a typical everyday american meal is the way that i can describe what a typical filipino meal is, even though i have been living in this country for most of my adult life

the way people latch on to what i call made-up diets <no-carbs, carbs-only, grapefruit diet, protein shake, soup diet, etc.> baffles me / the diets themselves baffle me \ how can one eat no carbs or carbs only???  or no meat? the others are even less palatable to me / all i can say is that i am happy & satisfied with every meal i choose, the basics of which has not changed since i was a child \ i still eat like a filipino

this book is worth reading & reflecting on / there are many more interesting & thought-provoking points that pollan raises & demonstrates <such as about hunting & vegetarianism; the vegetarian arguments do not sway me, i am a staunch omnivore & i like my place in the food chain> that would take up too much space in a post \ i like this book even more than the bayes theory book <26 feb 2014 post>

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