Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is the unwillingness to pay more for food really a matter of affordability or priority?

I love food. I love eating. I love cooking. After a vacation to Seattle which was filled with a lot of eating (including a food tour) I seriously considered moving out there, partly on the strength of the food. Hell, I'm still considering it cos I loved it out there and what, it's only ~3,000 miles from work, family and friends. But seriously, this Paseo sandwich was really good.

What I'm saying is, I'm a fan of food. So one day I was wandering a a bookstore and I noticed the book The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan and I was intrigued. I'd heard about the book and it was almost a book club selection one month, but I didn't really know much about it. I was hesitant because in general whenever there is a book about food it is so...judgey. Judgey and angry and hit-you-over-the-head with arguments about what you shouldn't and can't eat, lest you want everyone on the planet end up poisoned. I've read Fast Food Nation and I was worried this would be another "if you eat X, you may as well a) rape mother nature if you eat food from a factory farm b) single-handedly destroy the nation's economy by only eating locally/organically".* But I decided to take a chance and I'm glad I did.

Pollan's agenda for the book is just awareness. Be aware of where your food comes from. It seems simple and it's hard to argue that it's better to be ignorant of where you're getting something as fundamental as food. The "omnivore's dilemma" is that we can eat so many different things that it's not necessarily simple to know what to eat. To use his example, a koala eats eucalyptus. That is the end of the consideration a koala has to give to what it's going to eat. Are there eucalyptus leaves? Yes? Boom, dinner is figured out. Now the koala can get back to all the other stuff they do like sleeping and getting STDs.** People can, and do, eat lots of different foods so the question becomes what to eat. Now we have a good idea what we can eat but the question is where is our food coming from. Pollan focuses on traditional and organic factory farms (which are surprisingly similar), a local "grass-farm" and then he actually goes the hunter/gatherer route and finds a meal himself.

At no point does it ever feel like Pollan's hitting you over the head with an agenda. There are pros and cons to every method of getting your food and to claim that one way is perfect is ridiculous. Of course that also doesn't mean that industries couldn't use some revamping. You can understand that in a globalized and industrial world that completely getting rid of factory farms is unrealistic, but it's hard to say that feeding grains to animals that were never meant to live on it (and thus get sick and require lots of antibiotics) is a great system. Local farms certainly seem like the better choice, but could they really feed an entire nation?

We'll see how much reading this changes my eating habits. I'm hoping it makes me a more informed eater. I'm hoping it will make me stop and consider where is my food coming from, where could it come from, what's a realistic choice for me and what's a good choice for me? Eating should be more than a refueling exercise and it's important enough to give it serious thought.

*FFN is in the first category, although I actually enjoyed it when I read it and I haven't had McDonald's/Burger King/Wendy's type meal since then. Partially because of the book and partially because it's way healthier to just not eat it and it wasn't all that hard to cut out anyway.

** Koalas, I thought you guys were just bundles of cute, but little did a know so many of you are also riddled with chlamydia. Awesome. This isn't in the book, just a little factoid for you. The more you know.

Title quote from page 243/location 4007

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Press, 2006. Kindle edition.