Introduction - Our Natural Eating Disorder
Micheal Pollan starts the book with a common question: What should we have for dinner? This common question haunts American meals today. As humans, we have many different options to eat, we could eat carnivorously one day, and or be completely vegetarian. We could go vegan or become flexitarian. This excessiveness of options is what creates the dilemma: Omnivore’s Dilemma. Constantly we are battling on what is healthier, tastier, most eco-friendly, and in this world of food, everything is connected-- even the Twinkie. For most people, going to the supermarket or a fast-food restaurant is just a normal part of life, but few come to think of where that food comes from. In the context of the current world, Micheal declares his journey to uncover the natural history of four different meals. These meals are meant to classify, in a wide range, the four types of diet an American can have. Those are Industrial, Industrial Organic, Local Sustainable, and Hunter & Gatherer. Through this journey, Pollen’s main goal is to find the Perfect Meal.
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Chapter One - The Plant: Corn’s Conquest
The chapter starts with the introduction of the supermarket as a connection to nature. Everything in the market is somehow connected to nature, even if it might not seem like it. Later, Pollan comes to the point that the American industrial diet is largely dominated by one crop: corn. Many of the processors, animal feed, preservatives, even the oil are all made up of corn. This brings a new question into the mind of why corn is the one crop that is dominating our lifestyle and Pollan acknowledges that the previous question he stated, What should we have for dinner, should come after we truly know where our food comes from and what it is made of. Corn has a long history; Pollan says that it dates back to the Mayans, a 9,000-year history. But why is corn so popular? The answer lies in its versatility, its ability to be harvested within months of planting, and being able to use it without going bad for another few months. Since it was so flexible, its value also increased as people began creating new foods with corn, breeding it so that it can produce bigger crop yields, become more resistant to pests, and give larger husks.
Chapter Two - The Farm
The journey begins as Pollan travels to Iowa to meet George Naylor, a corn farmer. In this chapter, Pollan introduces the farm and addresses a few key issues regarding industrial agriculture. According to statistics, the number of farmers in the US falls below about 2 million people, a number much smaller than 50 years ago. Yet, the population of the US has only increased. Today, it is predicted that a single farmer can feed about 129 people yet that farmer falls into poverty. As time passes on, Naylor says that although his farm could probably feed 129 people, it fails to feed the four in his family. Naylor resists against buying GMO seeds saying that it is an interception of technology into nature and buying that seed gives benefit only to those who produce it. Pollan explains the farm to be dry and looking like a wasteland that is supposed to harvest corn.
Chapter Three - The Elevator
In this chapter, Micheal Pollan talks about where the corn goes after it was harvested. The corn reaches a place called the Grain Elevators that keep the raw grains. Commodity corn is different from the cob, where it is separated straight into kernels and is grained. Truly, all the different types of corn, the different hybrids, seeds are all mixed into one pile, making it impossible to trace one bushel back to its farm. Pollan explains that that is what is key to Industrial food. It is so processed and goes through so many steps that retracing where that food came from is not possible. So much corn is produced to come with demands but its wide-scale production makes it cheap. For most farmers, they receive $1.45 from the corn they grow, nearly half as much as it costs to grow the corn. As the decreasing value and increased production of corn, much of the extra is used to compensate for activities like animal feed and preservatives.
Chapter Four - The Feedlot: Making Meat
Following the corn production, Pollan takes a trip to Kansas where he sees the life of an Industrial cattle. Far from expectations, these cows have raised a farm with no grass but murky dirt that contains their manure up to their legs. Each of the cows doesn’t even have their names rather are called Steer 587 and such. Pollan purchases his very own steer to see how bushels of corn is transformed into steak. At first, it might seem a bit confusing but most of the feed that the cows at Poky eat are tons of corn. The idea is to fatten up the steer so that it can produce the most food and give the most profits as possible. Along with eh feed, there are extra nutrients added to keep the cattle “healthy” and meds to prevent infections. As Pollan goes through this journey, he realizes that the life of the meat ate McDonald’s starts like this and is slaughtered with mechanical machines. With this, Pollan brings up the slaughtering of cattle and how companies have changed their systems to give the animals the least amount of pain during slaughter by shooting eat cow and killing it directly. But, as Pollan hears from one of the advisors, this method has a margin of error. A heavy-weight steer consumes over 1200 pounds of corn in his lifetime. With the corn from processed foods, and now even farm animals. Americans are what they eat: corn.
Chapter Five - The Processing Plant: Making Complex Foods
In this chapter, Pollan explains the process of processing corn in the ways that it appears the most on our dinner table. Meeting up with the Center or Crops Utilization Research, Pollan explores the world of processing. He explains that food items with longer food ingredient lists are likely to have more commodity corn, their little portions of ingredients that end up making a huge difference in what you eat. Even simpler, Pollan calls today’s Americans, Corn eaters, as Americans consume so much corn through fast-food, soft drinks, breakfasts, even desserts are filled with portions of corn. And although much of that corn doesn’t come in its raw form -- the cob, cornmeal, corn flakes -- much of it appears on your dinner plate one way or another. In this chapter specifically, Pollan explains the different things food scientists do with all that excess cord seen in the elevator including how the scientists process the corn to synthetic additives and so many of the unknown ingredients on the food ingredients list.
Chapter Six - The Consumer: A Republic of Fat
This chapter takes into perspective the large-scale production of corn that has led to many problems like supersizing, changes in diets, and obesity. With the rise in corn production, demands and cost of the product have greatly decreased causing much industrial food to be filled with corn one way or another to make use of that corn. From BigMacs to the ethanol in gasoline, the industry has adapted to the lifestyle of corn. And with the lack of physical activity, calorie consumption and the rate of obesity have greatly increased in the past few decades. The amount of corn and emulsifiers used in Alcohol has been so immense that alcohol rates have dropped rapidly, giving the name “Alcoholic Revolution.”
Chapter Seven - The Meal: Fast Food
At the end of the Industrial food journey, Pollan takes a trip to McDonald’s with his family to finish off the Industrial meal. Pollan starts the chapter off explaining that most kids eat fast food almost every day and that it has provided an ideal meal for most Americans. The meal was to be eaten driving through in a moving car. As the industrial corn was the theme, the family would be eating corn, including the car, which is made of 10% ethanol gasoline. Pollan’s meal was a cheeseburger, a large coke, and large fries. To accommodate every American’s needs the fast-food industry makes eating fast food easy: all food can be eaten with one hand, waste-free, it is wrapped and processed so that it can stay fresh for months after it was first harvested in a field. The meal came down to, what does it taste like? Is it food, or just corn? Turns out, Pollan’s meal turned out to have an amazingly large percentage of corn; enough to overflow the car’s trunk. As the chapter ends, Pollan declares starting his Big Organic journey and eventually, Local Sustainable.
Chapter Eight - All Flesh is Grass
In this chapter, Micheal Pollan introduces Polyface farm in Virginia, home to farmer Joel Salatin. One key part of this chapter is the fact that Joel refers to himself as a grass farmer. He emphasizes that, in his farm, the grass is the basis of the food chain in growing the animals that potentially become food to humans. Before Pollan started his journey in Polyface, according to Salatin, he had to get acquainted with the grass at an ant-eye view. This brings him to the conclusion that all animals have a connection to grass. Not only is it the basic food to herbivores, but it is also relied on by all animals one way or another, including humans. Taking a step back, Pollan describes the difference between Naylor’s farm and Salatin’s. One industrial and the other, practically natural and sustainable. In between the two is Industrial Organic, the second meal. This chain is almost the same as Industrial yet, it is more regulated and is thus assumed to be healthier. Pollan explains how Salatin thinks that is the case.
Chapter Nine - Big Organic
Big Organic food, unlike most people’s perceptions, is most related to Industrial food rather than local farmer’s food. This is because the only difference between the two fields is that Industrial uses normal corn feed for its livestock whereas Organic uses organic feed for its livestock. In this chapter, Pollan takes a trip to “Rosie” the chicken farm where he witnesses the life of an organic chicken. Apart from the industrial lifestyle, the chickens mostly live in slightly larger spaces and are fed organic feed. These farms, although look mostly industrial areas, in a supermarket, considered to be “organic food” according to the USDA. Regarding the USDA, Pollan takes several points regarding the loose regulations that make food organic. These regulations questioned Pollan’s belief in organic food. Similarly, Pollan takes a trip to an Earthbound factory that sells organic Spinach. Meeting some of the founding members of the company, Pollan got to see how organic spinach is packaged at the factory. Finally, the chapter ends with the organic meal bought and cooked entirely from Whole Foods. The family’s food totals out to be $34. To close, Micheal Pollan ends with a connection to the number of fossil fuels wasted to supply some of our fresh vegetables even when they are not in season in your local area. The transportation of food, the single most difference between industrial organic and grass-fed, apart from its name implications.
Chapter 10 - Grass: Thirteen Ways of looking at a Pasture
Pollan arrives at the Polyface Farm for the first time because of Joel Salatin, who refused to mail Pollan a steak from Virginia to California. So to explore the next part of the human food chain, Pollan himself comes down to explore the family farm of Joel Salatin. Firstly, Joel calls himself a grass farmer. All his animals depend on this resource, it is the basis of the food chain at Polyface, and it is the single most difference that separates Industrial food with the Local Sustainable food that Polyface produces. Most of the animals come and go on the farm but the grass is the one property that stays. Better phrasing, another rancher refers to his farming as sun farming. Joel discusses that the grass on this farm has to be well treated, controlled, and maintained so that it can last for many years. Pollan spends his first day at Polyface getting fully acquainted with the grasses on the farm; the grass that feeds the cattle, chickens, rabbits, and turkeys, and the grass that provides the basis of this food chain.
Chapter 11 - The Animals: Practicing Complexity
Pollan visits the Polyface farm, home to The Salatin’s. At the farm, Joel explains to Pollan how everything is connected, the chickens, cattle, and the hogs are all part of the cycle that makes his farm survive. They go into detail explaining how every morning before the sun rises, the Salatin’s move the chicken pens around so that the chickens can get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals from the grass and to provide the best ways to fertilize the soil and in the right amounts. Salatin compares this farm to an orchestra, where the animals are the ones doing the most work with Joel just acting as the conductor to this great act. And to the farm’s benefit, it is providing great profits, making over 30,000 dozen eggs, and way more pounds of chicken, cattle, hogs, turkeys, and rabbits. To Joel, his entire farm is not only connected but is also dependent on the surroundings, The 450 acres of trees provide moisture to the soil that can fuel the cycle in the farm. In a way, Joel explains that although his farm could be much more profitable if it weren’t this natural, at the same time, it would lose its taste of chicken.
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Chapter 12 - Slaughter: In a Glass Abattoir
After a week of farming in the Polyface Farm, Pollan gets to experience the last portion of Local Sustainable: the slaughtering. That morning, they were slaughtering about 300 chickens and selling them to customers. The day's work began in the early morning where the chickens had to be transported in their pens, caught, cut, plucked, and processed to be sold. In addition to providing experiences from Pollan’s perspective, how to slaughter a chicken, Pollan discusses the USDA regulations on animal slaughtering to Joel. Most laws require that the white room to slaughter has to have windows, be disinfected, and even have a bathroom for the inspector. Joel makes a point that the regulations, once again, only benefit the industrial food chain. He believes that slaughtering in an open-air compartment is the right thing to do: it connects your food with nature and contains the world’s best disinfectant, air. The laws and regulations set could be the single most reason why there is a disparity between the farmer and consumer. Joel believes that if you have the right to choose who you want to be, you also have the right to know exactly how your food on the plate came to be.
Chapter 13 - The Market: “Greetings from the Non-Barcode People
In this chapter, Pollan introduces the consumers of the current farm’s food. The people, who drive one hour to get the grass-fed chicken that was slaughtered. Turns out, these people were more than willing to pay the $2.05 per pound for Local Sustainable food. Pollan gathered more information from each one, who were entirely common people. Many said that the food itself is more natural, trustworthy, and safer than the chicken bought at Walmart or any other supermarket. One this topic, Pollan brings up the high prices of the food with Joel explaining that you get what you pay for, and that is real food. Later, Joel explains his successful business with Bev who helps sell Polyface produce and meats to people in delivery who choose not to buy industrial food. This entire passage helps show a connection between the consumer and farmer that makes this type of agriculture unique. You know exactly where your food comes from, how it is made, and that it is better than anything bought at the grocery store.
Chapter 14 - The Meal: Grass-fed
Pollan, after a week's work at Polyface, decided to have his meal near Virginia as the Local Sustainable theme. Polyface chicken, Corn, and Chocolate Souffle were on the menu. As Pollan was cooking he explained that the food itself looked much different than industrial. The eggs had a carroty yolk color, the corn kernels ripped from the cob, and the ease in cooking the food. Pollan explains that this type of food has more omega-3, and fewer carbohydrates and saturated fats. For many people, Omega-3 is gained through supplements or seafood as none of the corn-feed chickens nor beef could provide that. Pollan noted that the chicken tasted more like chicken; Joel might have said that this is because, since the chicken lived like a chicken, it tastes like one too. Overall, this entire passage focused on the differences between Polyface, the regular industrial food, and why Polyface is much healthier: because it is more natural, eco-friendly, provides many nutrients that industrial fails to provide, and is a lot tastier.
Chapter 15 - The Forager
Pollan introduces the reader to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, bringing into perspective what it is and its connection to nature. As a young boy, Pollan had experience with simply gathering berries so this journey might be a few thrills. Although there are not that many hunter-gatherers who live except for some rural groups, the some that are there spend their lives in the most health beneficial way. In the next segment, Pollan meets Angelo, a passionate hunter and food enthusiast himself who becomes Pollan’s Virgil. The chapter addresses hunter’s education and the various types of wildlife in Northern California, from ducks to a Sonoma pig. Pollan ends the chapter with experience with a chanterelle where he is uncertain whether the food he gathered is poisonous or not. In the process, Pollan unknowingly becomes a part of the Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Chapter 16 - The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Pollan takes a step back from diving into the new meal to the Omnivore’s Dilemma. Most animals know exactly what’s on their dinner every night, they don’t need to put thought to it or doubt their lifestyle. But this difference between humans and animals is what makes up The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Like animals, most of us don’t need to worry about being able to have 3 meals a day. And therefore we are open to a variety of options and are forced to choose one that suits our lifestyle and will keep us the most “healthy.” We are given so much information about our food that sometimes, it gets to the point where we are all confused as to how to solve this dilemma. After this Pollan goes on to explain about human taste buds that can taste bitter things that are supposed to protect you from eating anything poisonous but can, turn on us, deflecting from the most healthy to the tastiest foods. Instead of trusting our natural senses to determine which food is best for us, we doubt our choices, unlike animals.
Chapter 17 - The Ethics of Eating Animals
Coming back to Steer 534, Pollan introduces the ethics of eating animals and the meat-eating omnivores dilemma. Is it acceptable? Slaughtering animals has been a controversial issue as there is always the argument that an animal feels pain, fear, and courage when slaughtered. Just like human rights, will animal rights be also fought for until animal consumption is just the past? These are some of the questions Pollan implies in this chapter, including the growing popularity of vegetarianism and ethics of eating animals from the homo sapiens perspective. Most of us tolerate the idea of animal killing because we never get to see it face-to-face. This is one of the many features of industrial farming, where everything is hidden to prevent less marketability. Pollan, with this discussion, mentions many philosophers and animal rights advocates about their opinion on the issue. Many countries have different ways of executing this ritual but by far, the United States has a record for its immense industrialization and brutalizations when slaughtering animals: most companies execute this task in the most brutal way. This treatment is exactly why the ethics of eating animals is questioned greatly in today’s meat-eating world.
Chapter 18 - Hunting: The Meat
In this chapter, Pollan goes with Angelo to hunt and successfully kill his first hog from the wild. After getting his hunter’s license, Micheal Pollan learns about the art of spotting a pig. He learns where they are most prevalent, their behaviors, and possibly everything that Angelo could teach him. As this was his first time wildly hunting anything, Pollan expressed that he was nervous to kill his first boar. Angelo says that hunting in the wild is his preference not for environmental reasons, but because the best food comes when it’s raw. In this regard, he mentions that after, the enjoyment of getting his first boar was ironic. Pollan explains that rather being a strategic game plan, his hunt was mostly an unexpected game of patience where, it was important for the hunter to maintain utmost serenity, but, with a little luck, to be able to cross the path of his prey. The art of hunting gets at its worst after the animal has been killed. This is the time where the boar that Pollan caught had to be gutted and cleaned before it could be cooked. Micheal Pollan expresses that although at the time he felt proud to hunt his first boar, after a while, his excitement turned to queasiness as he reflected on his experience later on. Pollan ends this chapter and his wild hunting with a connection to ancient hunting saying that it was these animals that brought back the food chain created over millions of years ago.
Chapter 19 - Gathering: The Fungi
For the “perfect meal,” Pollan’s goal is to make food that can represent all three of the organism kingdoms. Out of the three, Pollan reaches the fungi where he goes mushroom gathering with Angelo. Pollan explains that the chanterelle comes out only around their early spring where rainfall is high, giving the mushrooms a chance to grow. Angelo offered to take Pollan to a gathering where they collected enough mushrooms for a grocery bag. This gathering had significance though. Before, Pollan was very hesitant about eating mushrooms and many are poisonous, but while eating that chanterelle that they collected, Pollan felt no fear to eat the substance. I was aromatic, good-looking, and seemingly delicious. Amazed by its properties, Pollan studies more about the uniqueness of mushrooms and fungi and found out about the biological properties of fungi including its connection to the animal, plant kingdoms, and mushrooms. Mushrooms have low nutritional value as they don’t have many calories and few vitamins and minerals, mostly because of their little association with the sun. Fungi are more related to the animal kingdom than the plant kingdom.
Chapter 20 - The Perfect Meal
In the last chapter, Pollan explains his Hunter-gatherer meal, that he foraged with the help of a few individuals whom he invites to the hunter, foragers dinner. In this chapter, Pollan explains the last couple of steps before the perfect meal. Modeling the idea that all hunter-gatherers hunt and cook their food by themselves, Pollan set out to make his meal. This proved as a challenge for him because most of his food items would have usually been cooked with added flavors from other sources. Extracting the entire nature menu brought the perfect meal as it modeled ancient human ways of life. Pollan debates on many options for his food including food from his homegrown garden, and any exceptions he can make to his rules. Pollan tries a variety of options from picking his salt to abalones from the ocean for an appetizer. The whole way, he was reinforcing the omnivores dilemma. In the end, he concludes that the reason why this was the Perfect meal is that the food has an association with nothing but nature, which models an ideal Omnivore’s meal.
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