The Omnivore’s Dilemma

M. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Toronto: Penguin Group. p. 185-273

You can’t do just one thing.” (p.225)

Well, after weeks of telling myself to write my blog early, I am here yet again on Saturday afternoon wondering why I procrastinate. Cup of coffee in hand, I’m venturing back into the world of Michael Pollan, this time reading The Omnivore’s Dillema.

We are first introduced to a man by the name of Joel Salatin. Occupation? Grass farmer. You heard me, grass farmer. You’re probably thinking, “How does someone make a living farming grass? I produce a mighty fine looking sod grass myself – I mean look at my front lawn!” One does not simply become a grass farmer – we’re talking about pasture grasses,  the cow’s salad bar (p.186) of either delectable treats or unfavourable snacks.

BIOL3430-Cow

 One idea introduced early in this reading is how effortlessly complex nature is. Pollan states that “what makes this pasture’s complexity so much harder for us to comprehend is that it is not a complexity of our making,” (p.195) This made me think about how the little things such as how “hoof prints create shady little pockets of exposed soil where water collects,“(p.193) or how cattle “spread their waste exactly where it would do the most good,”(p.195), can transform into the big things, such as a thriving pasture. Another example of this is how the hens at Salatin’s farm feed upon the grubs residing in the cattle manure; Pollan states that the “birds do a more effective job of sanitizing the pasture than anything human, mechanical, or chemical,” (p.212). It is nearly impossible for us humans to mimic the works of Mother Nature, which to me is so fascinating!

Also, I really enjoyed the comparison Joel makes between biological and industrial systems; he describes the ecological system as one where “everything’s connected to everything else, so you can’t change one thing without changing ten other things,”(p.213). Being natural resource science student, I find this sounding all too familiar. When managing a forested ecosystem, there are so many variables to consider before making a final management decision. How will we harvest this block without ridding the site of it’s value for wildlife habitat or range? How and when will we decide to reforest this site, with what species, and in what density? If we remove these trees, will we lose site stability? How about cultural or recreational values? One decision made in the present can create a world of difference in the future. I love how towards the end of this chapter Pollan realizes how “the trees and grasses and the animals, the wild and the domestic [are] all part of a single ecological system,” (p.224).

Cattle

As I get further into this reading, I’m finding it more difficult to get through – not because the writing is poor, but how a large portion of today’s meat producers think of their animals as merely ‘protein machines with flaws‘ (p.219). How awful! I found it quite unnerving to read the section about Pollan at the slaughterhouse and the chickens. I occasionally eat chicken but after reading this, I find myself not inclined to do so without knowing where the chicken came from, how it was treated during its life, and how it was processed. To be honest, I don’t think I could ever even watch, let alone do what Michael Pollan did in the slaughterhouse – the thought alone makes me quite upset. The wording in particular that he used to describe the chickens while being processed, such as “floppy wet rags with beaks and feet,” (p.233) just hit me the wrong way. Why are we even doing this? I kept asking myself. It just seems wrong, but it’s a part of life.

One other aspect of this book that I’ve found to be really thought-provoking is how little we think of where our food is sourced. It makes me a bit ruffled to think that if we were buying pork chops for example, and were given “information on the pig’s diet and drug regimen, who could bring themselves to buy it?”(p.245) That just goes to show that most people know and understand that the animal products they buy from grocery stores are filled with hormones and fed on merely corn and animal by-products, but because the price is reasonable, that’s the only variable they consider. What a world.

 After reading this chapter, I found myself having the dilemma of wanting to continue eating meat (but it only being sourced in a humane manner), or becoming vegetarian altogether (after multiple failed attempts). I now truly understand what it means to be faced with the omnivore’s dilemma.

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2 thoughts on “The Omnivore’s Dilemma

  1. I entirely agree with you when it comes to meat processing! It was definitely a difficult section to get through, and I’m sure I felt very similar repulsion towards it all. Though the process of slaughtering chickens is very ugly, I admire Pollan’s resilience through it. I don’t think I could do that either. People are so blinded about the source of their food that it comes as such a shock to see firsthand what happens before it’s made into a meal. What a dilemma indeed!

  2. Okay, I can seriously relate to you when you say that you find yourself yet again writing a blog entry on a Saturday afternoon. I have found myself in that situation so many times, it’s not even funny. So, that was an awesome way to start off your blog entry.
    I agree with you when you say “how effortlessly complex nature is”. I never thought to put it like that before, but that’s a very good way of saying how amazing nature is. Without humans, it would probably thrive and survive a lot better – we depend so much on nature, and I don’t think it depends as much on us. I also agree with you when the topic of the meat production and slaughtering. I too found Pollan’s story to be awesome at the start, but became increasingly difficult to read when he started talking about the chicken slaughter. The detail he uses definitely didn’t help. Makes me wonder where my chicken is really coming from!
    Overall, awesome blog entry. I also questioned my choice of eating meat, especially meat that has been raised from livestock just to be slaughtered. Definitely bring the title of “Omnivore’s Dilemma” to life.

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