Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma: What Should We Eat for Dinner?

I was incredibly excited when Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals showed up at my local library. I had been on the wait list for almost a month and a half, and I was becoming impatient. I know I sound a bit dramatic, but I'm very serious when I say that this book made it incredibly easy for me to change my diet and I haven't had any problems, worries, or regrets since.

So what should you eat for dinner? Should you really be eating a slab of red meat? Pasta? Did you get the recommended serving of fruits of vegetables? Everyone learned the food pyramid in school, but most people can't tell you what's on there or why they should follow it. Even people who study nutrition get stumped when you present them with multiple conflicting studies regarding fat, carbs. And of course there's always the latest diet fad sweeping the country. I've mentioned the French Paradox before, but Michael Pollan suggests an American Paradox: a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthy.
om * ni * vore - someone or something that is omnivorous, eating both animal and plant foods
As omnivores, we have a much harder time figuring out what to eat than other, simpler animals like koalas, who only eat eucalyptus leaves. While we have a much greater variety in our diets, we also must devote more brain space and time attempting to figure out what's safe to eat. We remember what made us sick last week, we get disgusted at rotting meats and foods, and we use our tastebuds to guide us towards sweetness (which in nature signals carbohydrate energy).

A great part of belonging to a culture is being brought up to know what to eat and what to avoid. Cultures create rules that involve taboos, rituals, recipes, manners, and culinary traditions that keep the guess work out of dinner. Because America is a nation of immigrants, there isn't any predominant food culture, leaving us vulnerable to food scientists and food marketers, both profiting off of our confusion and eagerness to be healthy.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan examines the industrial, organic, and hunter/gatherer food chains. Some things are shocking, but it's worth it. The first section is industrial, and we'll start where almost every product in the supermarket comes from: corn.

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