In the twenty first century, the way humans prepare and take a meal determines their survival as a species. This is according to Michael Pollan in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This book addresses the issues surrounding today’s American eating habits. He addresses the supermarket and fast foods channels in America today, their influence on the eating lifestyles, the health of consumers, and effects to the natural environment. The book expounds into details the way the food resource chains in America have changed from the natural sun-based to a fossil-fuel based. Corn is processed to feed people and animals using fossil fuel. It has replaced the natural system, where the sun used to grow grass to feed animals, and animals to feed humans (the natural food chain). All kinds of food from bread to ice cream are now made of corn syrup and other derivatives, such as sweeteners and emulsifiers.
Pollan explores these issues in different food chains approach: the organic or alternative food, the industrial food, pastoral food, and the food prepared from the local sources (backyard gardens). Pollan surveys each of the food chains above and puts forward a definite description of the American way of eating. He narrates a trip from Iowa corn fields to food science laboratories, from fast food and feedlot restaurants, to organic farms and hunting grounds. He constantly stresses on the evolutionary and dynamic relationship between us, humans, plants and animal species that we depend on for food. Every time Pollan settles to have a meal, he uses his distinctive blend of personal and investigative journalism to track the source of all contents of the meal consumed. He discloses what people unsuspectingly eat and clarifies how people’s taste for food flavors reveals the revolutionary inheritance.
What shall we eat for dinner? This is the question facing most American people. It expresses the wide array of choices that a person has to face every time he or she needs to have a meal. Having to choose from the countless potential foods offered by nature is the reason behind this question. Moreover, humans have to learn to differentiate between what is safe and what is not. For example, people ask themselves every day: which berries can we enjoy today? This is what Pollan describes as The Omnivore’s Dilemma. According to him, America confronts what can only be described as a national eating disorder. The modern supermarket and fast food restaurants have thrown America back on a bewildering landscape, where all people have to worry about which diseases will kill them.
This book poses the questions: what should we have for dinner? What is it we are eating? Where did it originate from? How did it find its way to the table? What, in a true accounting, it truly cost? He confronts each of the above questions at a time, exploring the numerous choices human beings are presented with to answer them. The question what is it we are eating, leads Pollan to investigating the contents of the various meals consumed by the American people. He explores the industrial food and finds out that it is largely made up of corn. Whether it is xanthan gum, bread, soft drinks, or ketchup, it is largely based on corn and corn’s derivatives. Where did it come from? This focuses on the industrial and organic farms, as well as back-yard gardens. This trip takes him to the various food production areas, from the organic farm in Virginia, to Joel Salatin’s farm. Salatin’s farm represents the pastoral food chain. He expounds that to some extent his farming methods are not new at all, but mimic the ecological associations that exist in nature. Even though he describes his farm as a post-industrial enterprise, Pollan portrays Salatin as his hero, as he only carries out agriculture in the natural setup and does not sell his products to people, unless they are locals. He questions the processes involved in preparing food, especially the fast food. For instance, he includes one of the active ingredients in baking powder on a list of “quasi-edible substances”.
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How did it get to the table? The food processing procedures that take place in the making of hamburgers, for instance, are scrutinized by this question. Corn has been widely discussed in this book. Pollan traces McDonald’s lunch from a corn field in Iowa. He explains how corn is used to feed the steer. This steer is then prepared to be a McDonald’s’ burger. Corn also makes the oil that is used to cook the fries at the various food joints and restaurants. The corn syrup used in shakes and sodas as a sweetener is also processed from corn. Pollan notes that about 13 of the ingredients (yikes) in the Chicken McNuggets are made from corn. He laments about the way the American agriculture has exploited corn and the detrimental effects of it. Everyone in America is becoming fatter and fatter. As a result, he decides to prepare dinner using items from whole food; he prepares a meal from the ingredients he foraged from a small farm in Virginia.
What, in a true accounting, it truly cost? In answering this, Pollan debates that the expenses and benefits of a meal should be as clear as possible. This means to make the consumers of each meal conscious of the impacts of their food choices on the environment. Pollan claims that his pig hunt roughly represents this standard. All food costs should be transparent, from production points to the consumption points (grocery stores and fast food restaurants). Food has become plentiful and relatively economical than it used to be, but the expense now is people’s health, the environment, and various animals. With the high costs associated with production in America, Pollan tries the ancient food production method: hunting and gathering. He is aware that such a system cannot be viable in the modern society, but he still reasons that it is significant and appropriate to appreciate the shortest food chain possible; by preparing a meal he hunted and gathered personally. In this way, he tries to account for the true cost of food, such as the substantial energy and time investment. He hopes that people will better appreciate the loss of another living being. As he demonstrates that it is not easy to hunt and gather even with the modern equipment, such as rifles and GPS, even though he had never hunted previously, the “omnivorous problem” is evident in the selection of food. This would explain much about the human nature, the emotions and experiences in hunting and gathering operations, and mechanism involved.
One thing that can be learned from Pollan’s work in this book is that the best way to eat is by following nature, and going with the traditional way of meal preparation. This is because involvement of science in food production and preparation has only made things ‘worse’, as the nation progresses. Pollan blames science for the erosion of the culture that was successful and sustainable. He writes “we put our faith in science”, but people still have to fight with health problems, such as obesity and cancers. These diseases arise, because since the consumption of sugar increased to the unmanageable levels, scientists resorted to using alternative sugar sources, such as high fructose corn syrup.
In an overview, this part of the paper will explain the ways one can make a healthy meal for two people. The meal will consist of a chicken breast with mushroom sauce to be taken with salad. The meal will require about 10 ounces of mushrooms that have been thickly sliced. It will also require half ounce chicken breasts that have been pounded to even half inch pieces. The chicken breasts should preferably be acquired from a "free range" farm to ensure that “it tastes like chicken”. The meal preparation will also require salt, olive oil, fresh sage chopped parsley, and ground black pepper. The cooking begins with heating mushrooms and parsley on medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the mushrooms have browned. Adding a little salt will enhance the taste. At this stage, the olive oil should be heated on medium heat. Then sprinkle salt and black pepper on the surface of the chicken breast cutlets. The cutlets can now be added, and the meal should be left to cook for approximately about six minutes until they are browned and well cooked. Sage will then be stirred to sauce and seasoned together with salt and pepper to taste. When ready, it will be poured over the already cooked chicken. The meal is ready for serving with vegetable salad prepared from fresh vegetables obtained from a farm.
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By seeking to prepare a meal from the natural resources, Pollan hopes to learn the processes and the complexity involved in the natural world, which we should depend on for the sustainable living. He seeks to find the beauty of nature and inspiration to have a garden, or encourage children to grow up to be organic farmers (not industrial farmers). By going hunting with a chef and a bunch of blue collar, the guys, who live in the neighborhood, Pollan implies that it is easy to make a meal from the natural sources and that it can be done on a regular basis. The society today consists of insatiable and progressively confused omnivores. “We are indeed what we eat” and indeed, what we eat makes the world. “We are just beginning to recognize the profound consequences of simplest everyday food choices for both ourselves and for the natural world”; Pollan defines the position that the meal choices people make puts them, when it comes to profound engagement, to the natural world. This book stirs basic facts that are brought up by his effortless questions that face everyone daily, but people never bother.
On the issue of self-sufficiency, Pollan is certainly concerned about the quantity of fossil fuel consumed in the process of getting a meal on the table. Sustainability is the key to self-sufficiency. The food production patterns in the US are not sustainable. For example, the amount of corn produced is by far much more than the country requires for feeding people. The results are that this corn being fed to cows and pigs, when they should be fed with grass. Naturally, cows have difficulty in digesting corn. Since the farmer needs them to get fatter in a short while, he injects the cows with antibiotics to help them to digest the corn (and farmers get rid of excess corn at the same time). The issue of organic food is also addressed in this book. Pollan talks about the way large organic companies treat their animals, despite the fact that people are changing to the “organic food” and even spending more on it. He writes “get over it… the actual worth of getting organic on large industrial scale, is an absolute size of acreage it puts under organic management. Behind each organic TV meal or chicken or carton of processed organic milk stands a certain size of land that will never again be doused with chemicals, an unquestionable gain of the natural environment and public health”.
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Just before the end of his book, he states that both his homemade meal and the McDonald’s’ one are equally unsustainable. He explains that the fact that his homemade meal is unsustainable is his choice, because a dinner of potatoes and eggs with salad, equally local and gathered, is available and sustainable for everyone with a backyard, if they want it. By implying that self-provisionally and sustainability are more of a fantasy in today’s world, he is probably suggesting that the farmers be left alone to do the farming. There are not enough farmers to have organic foods all the time everywhere, as Pollan recommends. The use of high amounts of petroleum (fossil fuel) in agricultural cultivation and transport of American food is of concern as well. He makes much of the energy costs incurred through the long supply food chain of grocery and food stores. He says that Americans are happy about eating Chilean grapes without considering the amount of petroleum guzzled in their transportation.
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The entire world population was at one time self-sufficient. This was before the inventions and modern industrialized agriculture. Back then, people farmed their own food without anything like commercial agriculture. They used herding, hunting, and gathering as a method of searching for food, and then prepared it for consumption. Back then, there was sustainability and all the population would get enough from the natural sources. This has changed for the worse, as people rely on automated food production on industrial farms for food. A few farmers have the responsibility to feed a vast country’s population all over the US. This food is not naturally grown, but has been treated with many chemicals, which have undesirable health impacts in the long run. Sustainability should be of concern to Americans because in some other parts of the world native societies have managed to be self-sufficient even in the current situation.
He, at some point, focuses on a real organic farm in rural Virginia; there are cows, pigs, and chicken roaming freely, eating grass, and tasting as they should in the end. He indicates that that is the way people should be farming and the way people should eat. Indeed, not all parts of the US are as fertile as Virginia. However, he indirectly suggests that people in all regions should specialize in their own delicacies, and avoid eating things that are not in season or animals they do not see. Pollan notes that in order to cut on the use of fossil fuel, people need to focus on eating local foods. This means that no all-time supply of food from all over the country; people have to eat food as per the prevailing season. With this happening, eggs will taste like eggs and chicken like chicken, and most importantly, there will be no need for the use of fossil fuel in the food production and transportation being witnessed currently.
From his experience, he admits that sustainable eating may never happen on any great scale in the modern world. Those, who are concerned about the food they ingest, the health and environmental costs, will always consider sustainability in their way of living. In conclusion, the astonishing answers that Pollan proposes to the questions posed in his book have thoughtful psychological, political, economic, and even moral implications for all humanity. The book The Omnivore’s Dilemma can transform the way people deliberate about politics and preference of eating. For anybody who reads it, a dinner will not ever again look or taste relatively the same.