By the end of part one of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was really, really sick and tired of reading the word CORN. A lot of what Pollan writes in this chapter I already knew. Corn and soybeans make up pretty much everything in the industrial food chain; most corn is genetically modified; farmers can’t actually support themselves on what they grow; I knew all that already. For as long as I can remember, my mom has been on my case to “eat healthy,” and I’ve been taught about where food comes from. So while the history lessons in the chapter are interesting, they are only interesting because I happen to like history and he tells it like a story instead of a textbook.
However, I do like a lot of the things Pollan says in the introduction of his book. I wish I could just make a list of quotes that remind me of the lessons my parents taught me, but I won’t, because that would be boring and I hate being boring. Pollan says “like the hunter-gatherer picking a novel mushroom off the forest floor and consulting his sense memory to determine its edibility, we pick up the package in the supermarket and, no longer so confident of our senses, scrutinize the label, scratching our heads over the meaning of phrases like “heart healthy,” “no trans fats,” “cage-free,” or “range-fed.” What is “natural grill flavor” or TBHQ or xanthan gum? What is all this stuff, anyway, and where in the world did it come from?” (Pollan 5). These are exactly the same kinds of questions my mom taught me to ask. Being lactose intolerant for a portion of my life made me very careful about reading ingredient lists, a habit which I've kept despite the fact that I am no longer allergic to lactose. For example, what the hell is potassium sorbate and why is it in my food? Why is the monetary success of companies more important than the health of the people who depend on those companies for food? It makes no sense, and I don’t like it when things don’t make sense.
Another quote I like from Pollan's introduction is: “Our ingenuity in feeding ourselves is prodigious, but at various points our technologies come into conflict with nature’s ways of doing things, as when we seek to maximize efficiency by planting crops or raising animals in vast monocultures. This is something nature never does, always and for good reasons practicing diversity instead” (Pollan 9). The whole point of nature is to keep everything in balance. It reminds me of that line in “The Matrix” when Mr. Smith is talking to Morpheus about what the human race actually is. I believe he calls it a virus, always growing and obliterating as it grows, forcing itself to move elsewhere in order to find new things to feed off of. I wouldn’t call humans a virus, necessarily, but I do think that humans have become really, really bad at this whole balance thing.
On the same subject, Pollan says “By replacing solar energy with fossil fuel, by raising millions of food animals in close confinement, by feeding those animals foods they never evolved to eat, and by feeding ourselves foods far more novel than we even realize, we are taking risks with our health and the health of the natural world that are unprecedented” (Pollan 10). I’m hoping he means “novel” in the sense that our bodies don’t know what to do with all these foreign compounds we keep pumping into them. If so, then he hit the nail on the head, because in my opinion that is what is contributing to the national food crisis. Obesity, heart disease, any number of other fatal medical conditions can be contributed at least in part to the food we eat, and there is almost nothing the individual consumer can do to change that because they have no power over how the food is made. It’s scary, I admit it. Thinking about how many people there are out there who don’t know about the things that go into their food and what it’s doing to them is terrifying. But I know at the same time there’s only so much I can do.
Which is why, as I’m going to say in my CYOA presentation today, I am proud of the way I eat. I say “I want to go see the happy cows,” but I don’t actually want to see the cows. I want to go to the farm because it gives me comfort to know that the food I get there is actually food, grown the way food was meant to be grown, whether it’s animal or plant matter. This leads me to my favorite quote from Pollan’s introduction: “in the end this is a book about the pleasures of eating, the kinds of pleasure that are only deepened by knowing” (Pollan 11). Bam. Thank you, Michael Pollan. Watch me do a dance. This is why I take so much pleasure in eating the way I do at home: I KNOW WHAT’S IN THE FOOD. I know the beef is just exactly that, beef. It hasn’t been injected with saltwater to make it heavier to so I have to pay extra per pound. The cows it came from haven’t been treated with antibiotics or hormones or anything else. It’s just COW. Or pig, or chicken, or turkey, or eggs, or milk, or whatever, it’s JUST. FOOD. Nothing else. And it’s also nice knowing that the money my mom pays for the privilege of getting food and nothing but food is helping support a wonderful family of people who care about what they do and how they do it. Seeing exactly what your money is going toward is a really unique experience, one I wish everyone could have. It makes me think about the fact that the farmers depend on us just as much if not more than we depend on them, but I honestly don’t think we’re holding up our end of the bargain on a national scale. In my opinion, that needs to change, but I don’t see it doing so until so much damage has been done both to humans and the environment that some of it is irreversible.