“Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Natural History Of Four Meals”: Book Review
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, A natural history of four meals, is a book composed and written by Michael Pollan in 2006. Pollan critically evaluates humans’ challenges in deciding on a menu and dietary concerns. As an investigative journalist, Pollan sets out on an exploration of various levels of food production chains. He established what he regards as the man-made problem of having a wide range of foodstuffs to choose from but facing the reality of little knowledge of how the food is produced or its origin. The book, therefore, presents a qualitative review of how food is processed right from the production site and also re-evaluates the evolutionary journey that modern recipes have come through. The explanation of the dilemma pointed out by the book is how human beings enjoy the privilege of a wide variety of dietary options but have little knowledge of where the foods are produced.
The book takes the reader on an explorative journey through the fields of farming to the processing rooms and the retail outlets. From his visit to the Iowa corn fields, Pollan shows how most farmers’ interest in cultivating corn in the modern day is not motivated by the dietary value the production adds to the people’s menu but rather by economic motives. The book points out that about thirty-four thousand of all the items found in a typical American supermarket contain some form of corn (Pollan 2006:17). In fact, besides being consumed as a natural meal, corn has become a vital ingredient in the manufacture of local beer and used as a natural sweetener. Moreover, the investigative journey by Pollan established how the economic factors have made many farmers overlook grass fodders for the animals and embrace corn (Pollan 2006:16).
The animals fed on corn are economically preferred because those animals grow and gain weight relatively faster than is the case with traditional feeding practices, which only used grass. Corn has, therefore, become an important dietary component for most animal feeds, but as Pollan notes, the effects of overuse of corn even with feeding animals have human beings at the receiving end (Pollan 2006: 78). Human beings have, therefore, become more sensitive to the financial implications or profitability realized from the choice of diet as against the value the foods taken towards the health of the people. In the analogy presented in the “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Pollan shows that if human beings were what they consume, then one would be right to claim that people have become like corn (Pollan 2006: 98-99).
The book highlights major health plights that face human beings in modern society, as explained by the desire for higher efficiency in the production of foods. The book notes that continuous consumption of the meat of animals fed with corn is unhealthy regarding the required nutrients (Pollan 2006: 319). The meats contain higher fat content and have low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly required in our bodies. The increased imbalance of the food contents in people’s diets exposes them to higher risks of opportunistic diseases like heart disease. The book notes that in modern feeding programs, people take in a different ratio of the omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids from the rational 1 to 1 ratio to the exaggerated 10 to 1 ratio. The other concern raised by Pollan is how modern-day resistant strains of harmful bacteria have been evolving from animal feeds made from corn. To prevent the animals from bloating, the farmers use antibiotics such as Tylosin, which equally facilitates the development of harmful strains of bacteria. Furthermore, the concerns raised by the book illustrate how the exchange of harmful bacteria from animals to human beings exposes individuals to higher risks (Pollan 2006:78-79).
The third concern raised by Pollan is how the industrialization of agriculture has been affecting humans negatively, especially on environmental matters. Increased industrialization has seen people embrace chemical fertilizers and neglect the use of organic fertilizers, as was the case previously (Pollan 2006: 32). The effect of over-relying on organic fertilizers is the increase in nitrogen and chemicals in the soils. Although the use of chemical fertilizers proves economically feasible for many farmers against the use of organic fertilizers, the effects of the fertilizers on the environment are undesirable. The runoffs of the pesticides and the chemicals from the fertilizers into water bodies result in increased consumption by humans who rely on the water for domestic consumption and watering animals. Besides, the costs associated with the unintended effects on the environment by spilling the chemicals become unbearable to humans.
The immediate effects of taking modern foods on human beings have increased the cases of obesity. The consumption of junk foods in the form of fast foods has gained prominence in American society (Pollan 2006: 117-118). Pollan notes that the prevalence of obesity cases among the youth and the young has increased in America, as explained by the consumption of “poor” foods (Pollan 2006:117). As food companies strive to realize high-profit margins, they devise marketing tools to encourage higher consumption of junk foods or impose higher prices on the foods. The book, therefore, exposes the main difference between the consumers and the producers as the economic factor. While consumers are concerned about prices and the volumes consumed, the producer is always interested in spending less and realizing high profits (Pollan 2006: 101). Therefore, the conflict of interests presented in the interests of the consumers and the producers explains the increase in poor feeding habits among the people. It is worth noting that although Pollan focuses the investigation on the US, the findings represent a common feature in nearly all other parts of the world. The effects of globalization and industrialization enable producers and consumers to interact more closely, even in different physical localities.
While the book by Pollan presents a qualitative analysis of the subject of poor feeding by human beings and the associated effects, the book fails to address regulatory issues. As expected, Pollan could evaluate the effectiveness of regulatory bodies on the production, processing, and marketing campaigns embraced by the food industries to address the concerns raised by the investigative journalist.
While many people often lack the understanding of the importance of healthy eating and the essence of observing good dietary programs, the “Omnivore’s Dilemma” book by Pollan highlights the fundamental issues that human beings should focus on in the production and consumption of foods. From the exposition, Pollan does not only educate but also raises issues of policy that are important in modern society.
Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma: A natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press.