Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Recommended Reading


I just finished reading the Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. In it, he follows four different ways in which we can get our food, asking the question, "What should we have for dinner?"

You realize that this is a loaded question as you continue to read the book.

The first meal, from McDonald's, is eaten in the car traveling at 65mph. This represents the industrial meal, which is primarily grown from corn. Corn syrup in the soda, corn that feeds the cow, corn turned into ethanol that partly powers the car.

The second meal is culled from Whole Foods, an organic dinner that illustrates how the idea of "organic" has become so muddled and the demand for organicly grown goods is so great that it has now become industrial organic, using much of the same principles as an industrial farm. For example, while Whole Foods started out buying produce from smaller family farms, they have now grown so big that the small farms can no longer keep up with their demand. So they get most of their products from industrial organic farms.

The third meal is local/pastoral. Pollan spends some time at a completely sustainable farm in Virginia, where they raise cows, rabbits, and chicken. The cows graze, then are moved to another pasture. Then in come the chickens 3 days later to eat the grubs of maggots that form in the manure. This gives them a diet rich in protein, which makes their eggs fattier, richer and more delicious. The act of chicken "scratching" also helps to spread the manure. Everything is reused, even the remains of chickens that are killed on the farm - these go into compost heaps that are also used to fertilize the grass. From this, he prepares a meal of chicken and ingredients assembled locally, from produce to wine.

The last meal is a throwback to how meals were eaten in the past. He hunts a wild boar, grows his own vegetables and forages for morels. The meal is accompanied by a salad made from his own greens as well as bread baked with wild yeast that he has cultivated himself, and a cherry galette from cherries picked in the neighborhood.

At the end, he says that without fast food, there would be no slow food. While neither is exactly ideal, they help us to think about where our food really comes from and the impact on our environment from each choice.

While I enjoy shopping at greenmarkets it is often inconvenient and expensive. After reading this book I'm more willing to spend the extra time and money to put better food into my body. Here are some nearby restaurants that strive to include as much local/homegrown products as possible:

Frankie's 457
Blue Hill
The Green Table
The Tasting Room
Flatbush Farms
...among others. Please feel free to help me add to this list.

I'm curious to find out when "locavore" will suffer the same fate as "organic."

Glass half empty,

P.S. Doesn't help that I was finishing this up, Ryan was finishing The World Without Us. And I'd put down Carl Safina's Song for the Blue Ocean for the interim as well, which is a book about the world's fish population depletion. 200 pages on the bluefin tuna population. While not exactly riveting, very interesting and sad.


Bonbon Oiseau said...

Paloma in Greenpoint...

It's an excellent book--you've summarized it very well! michael pollen is my hero...the corn thing freaks me wayyy out...

lazysundae said...

same here and so do those scary high fructose corn syrup commercials that are saying that it's an okay substitute for sugar!