Book Review: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan

omnivores_dilemmaIn many ways, I feel like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” serves as the sequel to Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation,” a book that first sent a shock wave throughout the American food industry in 2005, by holding up a mirror to our current eating habits. In “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” published in 2006, author Michael Pollan raises the stakes by broadening the scope. And what we learn is a bit sobering: Although Americans can easily avoid the fast food drive-thru if they so choose, our ability to avoid industrialized corn by-products — such as high-fructose corn syrup (much maligned, and deservedly so) — presents a far more daunting challenge.

Personally, I don’t have the energy for too much soap-boxing within these pages, and besides, both “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Fast Food Nation” were bestsellers, so the word is already out, at least among the literate. I will point out, however, that both books share a grim undertone. And for that reason, in terms of its sheer readability, I would argue that “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” becomes less of a page-turner as it progresses. I suppose there’s only so much doom and gloom that one person can stomach, even if the message is critically important.

Regardless, I would still argue that the first section of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” based upon the vicious cycle of corn production, is a must-read for anyone who purports to care about what they eat. It’s equal parts fascinating and depressing, and for me, this section is easily on par with the great chapter on McDonald’s in “Fast Food Nation” (the clear highlight of that particular text, in my opinion). To be fair, I also enjoyed the lengthy middle section of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” which highlights the über-sustainable Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA. But I’m a food geek, and a sucker for efficient and sustainable practices.

By the book’s third and final section, however, I must admit that “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” had begun to wear me a little thin. Ultimately, I might attribute this criticism to my own ever-shortening attention span, but since I have also heard similar sentiments echoed by other folks, I feel that this point is noteworthy, if not petty. Although the third section does remain relatively brief, it also proves less engaging than the earlier sections. After all, the message of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” has already become painfully clear by the book’s end: high-fructose corn syrup is inherently evil, and the sustainability of “organic” farming has already become debatable.

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