Sunday, 1 May 2011

Review: Omnivore’s Dilemma

My last trip to our local library took me past their cookery section. Amongst the various tempting recipe books, ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ caught my eye. Having watched Food Inc, my interest in food production and processing is growing so I decided to give it a try. That’s the great thing about the library – if you see a book that you fancy, you can take it home for free with no obligation.

The book distils America’s food chain down to its key components – corn, chicken, beef, lettuce – before giving you the warts and all truth behind the production and processing that gets food on to dinner plates all around the USA. It’s an intense read (though I’m mostly a fiction reader if I’m honest) as Michael Pollan goes into the chemical composition of common foods, the history of ‘organic’ and the in’s and out’s (s’cuse the pun) of a cows digestive system.

One of the things that struck a chord with me was how the loss of traditional farming techniques is affecting the immediate environment as well as people’s health. For years, the long-established farming practice involved rearing animals and growing crops. Naturally, this meant that the by-product of one stock was used to benefit another – chicken droppings being spread as fertiliser for your arable land, for example. Now, farmers in the US are encouraged to produce single commodities which means that the waste just piles up. Without natural fertilisers, farmers have to resort to increasing amounts of chemicals to encourage the plants to grow which is infecting the water table.

It's a genuinely fascinating book and I would highly recommend it though I did have to take certain parts of it with a pinch of salt. Otherwise, I could see myself turning into a food fundamentalist.

Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivores Dilemma, can be found on Amazon here. Or why not pop down to your local library to see if you can borrow it from them and save you a few pennies...

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