Apologies for the late post—the internet ate my original and I didn’t realize it until now.
I enjoyed reading the second part of The Omnivore’s Dilemma far more than the first section. Reading about how the “organic” things in grocery stores were made was disconcerting to say the least, but it was an interesting and I think much-needed look into how the food system works. I’ve said before, I don’t like not knowing where things come from and what’s in them. Now I know.
My favorite part was undoubtedly Joel Salatin’s farm. Oh my dear god. I just want to go and stay there for forever. I am in no way a “‘Christian-conservative-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer’” (Pollan 125) as Mr. Salatin describes himself, so okay maybe I wouldn’t want to live there, but I do tend to prefer it when the place my food comes from makes sense with the kind of food it is. Pollan says that “feeding ruminants corn came to make a certain economic sense—I say “certain” because that statement depends on the particular method of accounting our economy applies to such questions, one that tends to hide the high cost of cheap food produced from corn” (Pollan 200). Mr. Salatin’s farm, however, makes different but much simpler biological and ecological sense. Not only was it interesting to learn about how a farm like this works, now I understand more about why Grassfields—which is actually based on Polyface Farm and how Mr. Salatin does things—works the way it does. It just plain makes sense. And I think Pollan is right again when he says that the reason this sense isn’t implemented in large farming operations is because “our civilization and, increasingly, our food system are strictly organized on industrial lines. They prize consistency, mechanization, predictability, interchangeability, and economies of scale. Everything about corn meshes smoothly with the gears of this great machine; grass doesn’t” (Pollan 201). Bravo, Mr. Pollan.
The other fantastic part was when Pollan actually took the food back to his friends’ house and cooked it. It took me back to so many summer meals I’ve had at my own house, with my family and friends. He talks about how the people there made it a completely different experience than if he’d simply been eating by himself. The food would still have been good, I’m assuming, but the people present give meals a certain quality in and of themselves. The meal becomes about something other than the food, almost a celebration of the ties between the people eating it, and I think that how the presence of people changes meals is fascinating. Generally people want to eat with those they love—friends, family, etc.—but they don’t want to eat with people who intimidate them or people they don’t like. It literally ruins the meal, because they’re so busy focusing on not making complete fools of themselves that the food pretty much loses its taste, no matter how high-end it is.
Or at least, that’s how it is for me. Someone else’s experience could be completely different, which is another one of the interesting complexities of food. The events in a person’s life can change how they experience the world around them, including food. I bet I experience food a whole lot differently than a starving child in Africa or a chef that makes French haute-cuisine for a bunch of wealthy socialites. So food is different in so many cases, yet is the same on the whole because every single human being has to eat in order to survive. How weirdly cool is that?