November's Pick 2006

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals

Image representing The Omnivore's Dilemma
    The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan

What’s for dinner? Michael Pollan uses his incisive investigative and literary skills to elucidate the apparently infinite variety of foods available to early 21st century Americans. He takes the reader on several field-to-table journeys, delineating the elements which make up four different meals: industrially-produced “fast” food; organic or “alternate” food purchased from one of the major organic grocery chains; food grown and gathered on a small “sustainable” farm in Virginia; and “wild” foods (such as mushrooms and pig) which Pollan went hunting for himself.

One of the spicier exposés in the book involves the lowly husk of corn, which has evolved into one of the leading ingredients in industrial foods. Despite the notion of endless variety available to American consumers, a quarter of all supermarket foods are made from corn. Pollan “follows the money,” and much more, to show the ecological costs of putting this highly-versatile plant at the center of the food business. A liter of oil is necessary to produce each of the 10 billion bushels of corn produced a year. An insider’s glimpse of the beef, poultry and dairy industries brings readers to a much fuller, and perhaps life-altering, understanding of the basic building blocks of the American diet. Pollan reports that animals naturally evolved to live on grass have to be fed antibiotics when they are sickened by a diet of—you guessed it—corn. They also contain higher levels of saturated fat which feeds into, so to speak, the American trend toward obesity and diabetes. Even supposedly “free-range” chickens may never land on a blade of grass before they end up on a grocery shelf. Pollan buys a steer and follows it almost from cradle to grave. If it’s true that “you are what you eat,” readers may find themselves transformed by the time they finish this closely-researched and fascinating book.

For On the Same Page, the Library has purchased the 2006 Penguin Press hardcover edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is also available at the Library as an audiobook in CD format.

About the Author

Photo of Michael Pollan
    Born on Long Island, N.Y. in 1955, Michael Pollan received a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College in Vermont, attended Mansfield College in Oxford and earned a master’s degree from Columbia University.

Now a journalism professor at U.C. Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism, Pollan is a contributing editor and columnist for the New York Times Magazine, and a former executive editor for Harper’s Magazine. His articles have appeared in such magazines as Gourmet, House and Garden, Mother Jones, and Vogue and have been included in the Norton Book of Nature Writing (1990); Best American Essays (1990 and 2003); and the Best American Science Writing (2004). In 1991, his book, Second Nature: a Gardener’s Education, won the Quality Paperback Book New Vision Award and was named by the American Horticultural Society as one of the “Best Gardening Books of the 20th Century.” In 1997, he received the John Burroughs Prize (for best natural history essay) and authored A Place of My Own: the Education of an Amateur Builder, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. In 2000, he won the Reuters Foundation/World Conservation Union Global Award for Environmental Journalism on the subject of genetically-modified crops. The following year, he wrote The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. It received the Borders Original Voices Award for the best nonfiction work of the year and was recognized as a best book of the year by the American Booksellers Association and Amazon. In 2003, he won the James Beard Award for best magazine series. Pollan lives in the Bay Area with his wife, painter Judith Belzer, and their son.

Of Related Interest

Related Programs

  • November 30, 2006, at 6:30 p.m.
    Author Appearance - Author and journalist Michael Pollan reads and discusses his   latest book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. A   book sale and signing will follow.

            Main Library, Lower   Level, Koret Auditorium

           100 Larkin Street (at Grove)

Large Screen VideosYou Are What You Eat

Thursdays at Noon:

  • November 2
    The Future of Food (2004, 88   min.) - This documentary offers an in-depth investigation into the   disturbing truth behind the unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods   that have quietly filled grocery store shelves for the past decade. Written and   directed by Deborah Koons Garcia.

            Main Library, Lower   Level, Koret Auditorium, 12:00 n.

            100 Larkin Street (at Grove)
  • November 9
      ***Super Size Me (2004, 100   min.) - An irreverent look at obesity in America and one of its sources -   fast food corporations.

            Main Library, Lower Level, Koret   Auditorium, 2:00 p.m.

            100 Larkin Street (at Grove)
  • November 16
    Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution (2003, 53 min.) - Documentary about the founder of Berkeley’s   world famous restaurant Chez Panisse.

            Main Library,   Lower Level, Koret Auditorium, 12:00 n.

            100 Larkin Street (at Grove)
  • November 23
    Closed for Turkey Day!
  • November 30
    ***Like Water for Chocolate   (1992, 123 min.) - A romantic and poignant tale of love and family life   in turn-of-the-century Mexico.

            Main Library, Lower   Level, Koret Auditorium, 12:00 n.

            100 Larkin Street (at Grove)

*** Film is captioned to provide access for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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