In America, we do not decide what is healthy and what is not by the authenticity of natural food, but rather nutrition facts. If we are in a store and see a label that says “only 100 calories” we are drawn to that item instead of an item labeled “organic” or “all-natural”. This is because as a society, we are always on a “fad diet” and believe that health has to do with calorie counting and sugar intake as opposed to the actual production of the food itself. In Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, argues that this is not the case. Pollan goes into an in-depth investigation to show that the organic food chain is the healthiest and most realistic of the “three principal food chains that sustain us today: the industrial, the organic, and the hunter-gatherer” (7),
He describes the “omnivores dilemma” as the constant problem that people with vast amounts of food must face everyday. The question Pollan continuously raises is the idea that because we have the ability to eat almost everything, we struggle with being able to decide what the best choice is. Therefore we must always ask ourselves the question “what should we eat”? Throughout his extraordinary exploratory first hand research, Pollan shows that we would be healthier and happier if we truly knew where our food was coming from and how it was produced. Pollan promotes a food chain where the food can be directly traced back to its origins, as opposed to industrialized food. Therefore, it can be conceived that the best way to achieve this idea is to follow the organic food chain.
The organic food chain is best for expressing Pollan’s idea that if we know where our food originates, we will be find greater satisfaction in our meals. The organic food chain is one that provides the most natural benefits to humans. A prime example of this can be seen on grass-farms because; grass is “the foundation of the intricate food chain” (126). Pollan points out that grass is typically overlooked as a material of consumption, however grass is one of the solid beginnings of the big organic food chain.
There are two main human-grass phases. The first is mediated by animals because they are able to digest the grass and therefore produce meat for us to eat. In this process humans “deliberately promoted the welfare of the grasses in order to attract and fatten the animals they depended on”. The second phase of the human-grass relationship, is known as the “invention of agriculture” (129). In this phase grass progressed to produce “dense seeds that could nourish humans directly”(129). Through this progression, this specific grass eliminated the necessity for animals to mediate the relationship between grass and people. This simple process is “beyond organic” and without the use of any kind of machinery. Therefore, allowing us to see where our food originated, which goes hand in hand with Pollan’s theory that if we see where our food comes from we are healthier and happier because we know exactly what we are putting into our bodies.
When it comes to big organic food, Pollan starts his investigation at Whole Foods. It is here that he brings up the idea that we like organic food because we believe that it is wholesome. Big organic food is food that is truly all natural and “beyond organic”, with no machinery or unnatural influences. The success of organic markets play into Pollan’s idea that we enjoy food more when we know where it comes from. The organic food chain is the most realistic option out of the three proposed food chains (industrialized, organic, and hunter-gatherers) that best promotes Pollen’s philosophy of the human relation to nature.
Industrialized food chains are the furthest food chains from the lifestyle Pollan is trying to encourage. Both the conventional industrialized food supply and the industrial organic supply imply through labeling and advertising that their products are natural, when in fact that is not the case. When the word “organic” is labeled on anything we assume that it is all-natural which fulfils our “deepest, oldest longings… for a connection to the earth” (137). We as a society tend to simply believe and assume the clever marketing “organic” companies use, however this is “an imperfect substitute for direct observation of how food is produced” (137).
When Pollan investigated the industrialized food chain, he learned that corn is found in everything from food to batteries; essentially everything we eat is from a form of corn. Corn is a cheap crop, cheaper than grass, therefore ideal for an industrial production process. Because corn is so cheap there is constantly an excess amount that needs to be disposed of, because of this problem surplus amounts of corn are used to feed cows. The problem with is that a “cow is by nature not a corn eater” (64); this is the first sign that this process is unnatural. Due to the unnatural meals the cows are forced to consume, there are many problems that come in return.
One major problem is bloating due to the cow’s diet that “contains too much starch and too little roughage” (77), this small dietary substitute can often times lead to the animals suffocation. However, if the cow does not suffocate from their unsuitable diet, they still must be injected with antibiotics to ensure their health. This also fails to cohere to the idea of healthy food, additionally, the animal’s “drugs are plainly being used to treat sick animals, yet the animals probably wouldn’t be sick if not for the diet of the grain we feed them” (79).
Once the animal is killed for the industrialized food supply, “what doesn’t pass through the gut of a food animal to become meat will pass through one of America’s twenty-five wet-mills” (86). These wet-mills are what makes processed food that are used for supplements, especially by big name brands such as McDonald’s.
This food chain by far is the most unnatural of them all. However, it is we, the modern Americans, which keep this food chain successful. We are a perfect example for the phrase “ignorance is bliss”. We do not think that we are drinking corn when we have a soda, and we automatically assume the meat in our fast-food burgers is natural, healthy meat, when this could not be further from the truth. Pollan goes as far as to call this food “schematic” (119), he states that once we are finished with our industrialized meal we are not satisfied, but “simply, regrettably, full” (119). By leaving us unsatisfied, the industrialized food supply supports Pollan’s beliefs that knowing where our food comes from satisfies us and makes us happier eaters.
In addition to the industrialized food chain, Pollan also finds wrong doings in the industrial organic food supply. The term “organic” is meant to refer to food that is made from nature, not machinery. The industrial organic process supply utilizes machinery, though in an environmentally sound way, to produce their food. In an industrial organic process, a machine is used to transform “inputs of seed and fossil energy into outputs of carbohydrate and protein”(130). Industrial Organic is a paradox, because the word organic is meant to refer to food that is completely natural with no intercourse with machines, however in the Industrial Organic process, machines are employed. This process is still a process of manufacturing, and does not have the correct use of Pollan’s idea of human’s relation to nature because they take us farther from natural food, and the knowledge of where our food comes from.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma I found Pollan’s idea of how to engage with the natural world compelling, however I also it unrealistic. Though I do believe that it would be in all parts of the environment (including humans) best interest to establish a completely natural food chain, I also think that in this day and age, that would be impossible. Our modern day society is not necessarily focused on what is the best thing for us, but what is easiest. Even though processed foods from McDonland’s are unnatural and bad for our bodies, the food has a decent taste, is affordable, and is fast. Many modern American’s are not thinking about the future or where their food originated from because they have so many other things on their mind, and if they are knowledgeable about where their food came from, many of them simply do not care. As long as it is filling and tasty, it gets the job done.
In the last page of the introduction to this book Pollan says “many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of an industrial food chain, without a thought in the world; this book is probably not for them”(11). This sentence further proves my idea that people just do not care enough to change their way of living. Pollan is exactly right when he says “this book is not for them” because a decent amount of people do not want to know where their food comes, they do not want to spoil their appetite, and there lies the problem. In modern America, citizens are perfectly content with how things are now, and they have no reason to put in extra effort, time, and money, to fix something that they do not believe needs fixing.