by Michael Pollan
Penguin Press 2006, $26.95 (hardcover), 464 pp.
One of 2006's most celebrated nonfiction books, The Omnivore's Dilemma may be the most widely-read serious (i.e., nondiet) "food" book since Fast Food Nation in 2001.
In it, author Michael Pollan relates the "history" of four distinct meals in order to come to an understanding of...well, not only how we eat but also how he thinks we should eat. The meals include a typical McDonald's fast-food lunch; a meal of allorganic ingredients bought at Whole Foods; one prepared from ingredients grown on an experimental sustainable farm; and, finally, one for which Pollan grows, gathers and—in the case of the meat—kills all the components himself.
Each section is fascinating in its own way. The one about the McDonald's meal tells you more than you ever wanted to know about the centrality of corn to the modern american diet. The all-organic store-bought meal section raises important questions about what "organic" does—and doesn't—mean, while the section about the sustainable farm reveals Pollan's ideal, but one probably too eccentric for mass emulation.
The final section centers around Pollan's decision to hunt and kill a wild pig for the entree of his self-produced meal.
The book is weakest in its simplistic view of market forces, which Pollan sees as incapable of producing anything but dirtcheap volume commodities and least-common-denominator products. He seems oblivious to the fact that the very existence of the Whole Foods he shops at argues just the opposite.