Literature Appetizer: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

In Literature Appetizer, Ben gives you just a taste of a book. Not meant to replace the full meal, this is meant to whet your appetite. Bon appetit!

The more I age, the more I realize how generous my parents were (and still are) by raising me. One of the ways their generosity shinned was through every night, sitting down for supper. Even though I was an extremely picky eater, Mom would always make sure there was food on the table that I could eat. I didn't even have to think or worry about how food was getting to the table.

Now that I'm living on my own I eat the majority of my meals alone. While this is not always positive, one of the things I really enjoy is experimenting with food. I'm now able to see what kind of food I get day in, and day out.

Making choices about what food I get is a privilege. I have the finances to not only shop where I want but also drive there as well. This is especially showing since I live in a food desert community (the only large production garden was flooded out and no produce can be grown there for at least 90 days).

What The Omnivore's Dilemma goes through is what those choices mean. Now I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, even after reading this book. Even Michael Pollen, the author, didn't stop eating meat after writing this. But I highly recommend diving into this good read. Pollen goes through the three primary ways food is made in America, describing the pros and cons of each.

Myself and my sister, Abby

Myself and my sister, Abby

Conventional Industrial Farming

I was the ideal demographic for industrial farming growing up. I loved highly processed sweets, sugary cereals, and chicken nuggets from McDonalds. It just tasted so good; and it was safe. Fruits and vegetables always had a weird smell, or funky texture. I knew every time that I opened a box of lucky charms I would find the same reliable marshmallows.

This consistency is possible through industrial farming. It is because of this global system that food really doesn't have seasons in conventional supermarkets. You can always get cherries, eggplant, and even steak. The crop that this all relies on is corn.

The way that corn grows now is as advanced and as 'unnatural' as dense urban centers. Originally, maze was small; growing only one or two ears a year. But through genetic selection we have altered it to grow insanely tall and close together.

This corn provides the key ingredient in so many products you know. Sweetener? Corn. Cow feed? Corn. Cleaner? Corn. But if corn is first in what American's consume, meat is a very close second.

Industrial farming views animals as machines converting corn into meat. If you or I were to look at how these creatures were treated we would be horrified. One of the farmers in the book explained just how quickly things have changed

In my grandfather’s time, cows were four or five years old at slaughter. In the fifties, when my father was ranching, it was two or three years old. Now we get there at fourteen to sixteen months.
— Rich, pg 71

To get cows to get to the right size so quickly, they feed them corn, animal fat, and antibiotics. The corn is because it is cheap, as well as animal fat. The antibiotics keep the animal standing through the miserable living conditions. While the industry says they only feed antibiotics to sick cows, all of them are technically sick due to how they live.

The end goal in this system is to keep us buying to make bigger profit margins. Plain and simple. It is a business afterall. But is there a better way?

Cascadian Farm

Cascadian Farm

Big Organic

The next time you go shopping, see if you can find a cereal from Cascadian Farm. It will tell you the farm is located in the beautiful Skagit Valley, where they use only the best practices to make good food and protect the area. I can atest to this since I lived just up river from them! Honestly, their ice cream is only rivaled by the fresh berries you can pick on site. But what you will not find on the farm is how they make the cereal, or any of the other products they provide across the nation. Surely, the Skagit Valley couldn't provide that much food for the all the supermarkets across America?

This story is my favorite type of literature: Supermarket Pastoral. I'm a sucker when my food tells a story. "These eggs are from this farm where this farmer raises the chickens." But if it is the supermarket, how can it be organic?

Organic, according to the United States Government, is a set of guidelines that a food must go through to get a label. Some think the guidelines are too strict, some not strict enough. What this looks like in everyday practice seems much more like industrial farming than Supermarket Pastoral.

Take free range chickens, for example. Yes, the chickens are provided a space where they can roam free, picking bugs and seeds from the grass. But since the chickens are kept indoors until they are old enough, and they don't get to live to old age. Often times chickens are given a small door where they can go through all they want. Since it is new and strange, the majority of chickens never go through. Also, this door is usually opened in the last two weeks of their lives. So even though it says free range, the technicality turns out that some of the chickens never see sunlight due to choice/fear.

I'll be honest; this is where I fully live. I'm usually able to get an entire week's worth of groceries all with labels like organic and free range. Just as I was the ideal consumer for industrial farming growing up, I'm now the ideal consumer for Big Organic.

But there is a third way of growing food, taking the practices of thousands of years and combining it with all of the information technology can gather.


Place Based Eating

Located on the north end of Lake Chelan, there is a little community that 'surges' to 150 residents during the summer, and has a yearly average of 75. Only accessible by boat, plane, or a 20 mile hike (yep, no driving to this town), Stehekin allows visitors to experience how pioneering was done.

In the valley, there is a wonderful orchard that during the fall people flock to to help in the harvest. It becomes a community event, complete with dancing and singing.

This is the type of story Supermarket Pastoral wishes it could tell. Even though I was just a visitor, I was put to work pressing apples for cider. Not only does the food have a story, but it becomes a shared story with others.

Now this type of food production is not possible for plenty of people based on where they live and also the time commitment required. But just as my parents always brought us all together with food daily, it becomes easier to eat locally in a community.

Again, I'm not saying we all need to eat everything grown in our own backyards. But I would invite you to make something, anything, and share it with others. Do you have a garden? Bring people over for a harvesting party! Do you hunt? Give entire cuts to family and friends where they each will cook it in an amazingly different way. Or support your local farmers in CSA's where you can buy directly from them.

I know for me personally I'm going to start making sourdough bread. If you ever need a loaf, or even a starter to make your own, let me know! For you know I'll be coming to you for whatever you make that is fantastic.