YOCR#7 – The Omnivore’s Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I don’t think I can go any farther afield in my Year of Creative Reading than “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. I spotted it at the library (best place to serendipitously find books other than a book store), having wanted to read it for a while, and checked it out. And renewed it and renewed it again. It took me over a month to read, not because the reading is difficult, but because it’s long and I had other things drawing me away from it.

So, now it’s time to justify why “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” belongs on my creative reading list, because, if it hasn’t become obvious by now (wake up, Mary!), I’ve gone off the original list and am creating my own.

In “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” Michael Pollan has set himself the task of having four meals, each one generated through one of America’s current avenues of food production. The first meal comes through the industrial, factory-farming food chain, the one that we have come to know as creating inhumane living conditions for farm animals and producing monocultures of plants (primarily corn). The second meal is produced through industrial organic farming (think Whole Foods), which, as Pollan points out, is better than industrial farming, but not much because scaling organics to a nationwide market leads to practices that aren’t perfect by any means. The third meal comes from Polyface Farm, a small-scale organic farm wherein the animals and plants are orchestrated in a cycle meant to sustain each other and allow each organism to express its natural characteristics. In other words, the animals and plants get to live the lives they were meant to live. The fourth meal was a result of Pollan hunting and foraging … harking back to hunter/gatherer societies.

My favorite in terms of philosophy is the small-scale organic farm, followed by hunting and foraging. While I’m not personally keen on hunting, having grown up with a dad who hunted and in a culture where hunting is an accepted practice, I can fully understand how important hunting used to be for survival. Of course, we’ve reached a time, due to all that industrial farming, that we don’t really need to hunt to survive. We can just buy our meat at a grocery store. But, as Pollan spends some time explaining in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” when you have to kill the meat you are going to eat, you gain an appreciation of the skill involved as well as a massive gratitude toward the animal that is helping to sustain you. When my husband and I were processing the first deer he shot, I felt that gratitude as I was washing the meat. Hunting also makes you not so cavalier about the meat you buy in a grocery store.

For those readers who are completely anti-hunting, take some time to read Pollan’s discourse on the subject, including the complex emotions he felt about the act itself and about the hunter’s trophy photo that was taken of him after he shot a wild pig. (Pages 359-363 in the paperback version of the book.)

How does this book fit into my Year of Creative Reading? Three ways …

1. It’s about the creation of our food supply in America. Without sustenance, where would artists and writers be? The growing, hunting, and gathering of food is the original creative act of humanity (outside of sex, naturally).

2. Michael Pollan’s writing is a pleasure to read and an inspiration to my own writing. He uses words like “postprandial” in an easy and unaffected manner, breaking down complex topics so they are easy to understand, but maintaining the sense of complexity without making the reader feel dumb. (Good conversation-starters in this book.)

3. Creativity depends upon cross-pollination between various subjects and disciplines. If I read nothing but books on creativity, what quickly happens (which I know from experience) is that the same points get repeated across different books. A steady diet of the same types of books leads to boredom, not creativity.

 

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