I had read excerpts of Michael Pollan’s book before, but only now had gotten around to sitting down with the complete work. I feel a little behind the times for taking so long to get to it, considering that it was published in 2006, but the small amount of time that has elapsed since then doesn’t make any less relevant. As a society we still rely heavily on corn and corn-based products, we still have a dependency on processed foods, we still do not maintain sustainable eating habits, we still have not fixed any of the problems with the agriculture industry.
Not much — if anything — has changed since in the past two years, least of all the sheer readability of Pollan’s writing. Could anyone else describe corn farming in as mesmerizing a manner? Is there a writer out there capable of putting into words the numbing effect experienced after killing so many chickens? What about the excitement of foraging for mushrooms with an expat Italian? Pollan writes with confidence about these topics and more.
My favorite parts of The Omnivore’s Dilemma are those which cover Polyface Farm and the entirety of section four, about gathering entirely from the natural world outside of the Bay Area the foodstuffs required to make a meal. (This may or may not have to do with my absolute love of Steve Rinella’s 2007 book The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine, in which Rinella spends a year hunting across America for the ingredients he needs to prepare not just a Thanksgiving Day meal, but a highly ornate multi-course spread taken directly from Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire.)
These portions of Pollan’s food tour are similar in the sense that they are about people as much as they are about what people eat. Granted, humanity is present in the corn industry and in farming; in his writing about Polyface’s Joel Salatin and in his depiction of his own experiences in the wilds of San Francisco, The Omnivore’s Dilemma becomes something beyond simply a book following our food. It becomes a book about the lengths we will go to follow the course that we have set out, whether it is to create an entirely sustainable farm with healthy and happy animals or to assemble the components of a meal from boar to berry without once stepping into a supermarket. And it is those lengths exactly which fascinate me the most.