Thursday, June 19, 2008

what i'm reading: the omnivore's dilemma

To be fair, I actually didn't read The Omnivore's Dilemma, but have been listening to the audiobook. (Hey, I've got to pass time in the studio some how.)

Its actually surprising that its taken me this long to tackle this book, given that I loved Michael Pollan's earlier book, The Botany of Desire, and that I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a book with similar themes to TOD) not long after if came out.

Just like AVM, The Omnivore's Dilemma makes you serious question what you're eating and why you're eating it. My question is, why hasn't it led more of America to question and condemn the practices in most animal feeding and slaughter houses. Didn't we learn in American history that Upton Sinclair's The Jungle brought about major reforms in the Chicago meatpacking industry after it was published? Why didn't the same thing happen with TOD? Some of the stories Pollan tells are down right horrifying.

To be honest, I do eat meat, and will continue to do so after reading this book. Growing up, and currently living in, an agricultural area, I actually have no problems with eating animals raised at a place like Polyface Farms. In fact, one of the reasons I'll be able to continue eating meat is that Joe's family butchers their own beef and pork every year, and that is where the majority of meat that Joe and I eat comes from. Its reassuring to me to think that right now, this year's cow is out in a pasture a few miles from my house eating grass.

What I really like most about TOD is how its so applicable to other things in life that have nothing to do with food. There were two quotes in particular that struck me. Pollan is talking about hunting, gardening, and other activities and says, "An economy organized around a complex division of labor can usually get these jobs done for a fraction of the cost, in time or money, that it takes us to do them ourselves, yet something in us apparently seeks confirmation that we still have the skills needed to provide for ourselves." Isn't this why we craft artists make things ourselves? Isn't this a sufficient argument for why we should still teach people to make things by hand? In fact, I think its telling that the rise of the DIY craft movement coincides with the publication and interest in books like TOD and AVM. That same impulse, of wanting to know where your food comes from, seems to apply. People in a very disconnected world want to feel connected to where (and who) their stuff comes from as well.

The other quote that struck me, because it could be applied to something totally unrelated was, "Eating's not a bad way to get to know a place." Except when I heard it, I substituted running for eating. The more I run around my town, the more I think that I must know it better than many of the people who live there. I know the alleys, the back roads, what goes on at different times of day. I feel more connected to my town because I cover its streets more carefully. How else could I tell engineers at a county planning meeting with complete confidence that, "no the Market Street bridge only has a sidewalk on one side, not both, and its on the north side, not the south." I run it almost every day. That's my bridge.

Verdict: If you haven't yet read The Omnivore's Dilemma, its definitely worth it. (Unless you want to continue mindlessly eating, then you probably shouldn't read it.) I'd also recommend the audio book, which I downloaded from iTunes. Its great to listen to during repetitive production work.


karen said...

megan, i completely agree that EVERYONE should read these books!!! the fact that we are so blind to what we put into ourselves, to what fuels us onward... it's sad. as you say, this yearning we're all starting to feel to 'know the source', it extends to every aspect of our lives... it, too, makes me so very grateful to live in an agriculturally stable area and to have so many crafty friends. the word community is more and more meaningful to me every day.
thanks for being a art of that.
(i'm more and more into the idea of an audio book. i've been plugging away at animal vegetable miracle for way too long, but by the time i give myself time to read i can only get a few pages before my eyelids fall down... to "read" and work at the same time... brilliant!)

second storie said...

i read this book some months ago and the images have stuck with me. i also have wondered why more attention wasn't paid to this book in the media. for as many copies of Omnivore that have sold, it's surprising.

i too thought of the growth of the handmade community while reading Omnivore. i am grateful that so many share this longing to connect, it may be the beginning of a very significant shift. i have hope.

i also thought of your 'i am a real person post" after reading this one. how fitting, after proclaiming that you will no longer edit yourself as much in this space, that you speak of people longing to know the person behind a purchase.

as always, i love your i am reading posts. thanks for sharing.

happy friday,

dandelion blu said...

I loved "Botany Of Desire," but have been hesitant to pick up "The Omnivores Dilemma"- I think simply because I am afraid to. I already don't eat meat, and am not sure I can "stomach" reading about the food industry right now. I sponsor the Animal Rights Collation at the school I teach at and had to leave the room while they watched "Earthlings!" Is there a lot of graphic description of the slaughter houses, or would I be able to pass over it? I mean, I am the sort who bawls at those Purina commercials with the dogs in the shelters! But I am interested in agricultural side of it as I have been attempting to grow more of my food the past couple of years- albeit in the middle of Baltimore City! As always I love your "what I'm reading posts," I download my books off itunes too!

megan said...

thanks to everyone for your responses. i'm glad that people enjoy these posts, they're a good way for me to keep track of what I'm reading.

sherri - if you do decide to read it, you are going to want to skip over some of the sections. there were some parts that made me shudder and want to gag. but a lot of the stuff about agriculture was interesting. I too have been wanting to grow my own food more, but i have a black thumb.