(Image courtesy of Michael Pollan)
What should we have for dinner?
Michael Pollan opens The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006) with this question, a question we've all asked ourselves more times than we can probably count. While the question has remained the same over the centuries, the answers we provide have changed dramatically and may ultimately affect our survival as a species. In choosing what to eat for dinner, we may opt to stop by one of the many fast food restaurants out there to pick up a quick meal. Or we may reach for any number of prepared foods available to us in the frozen food department of our grocery store. We may choose meat that is "grass-fed" or chickens that were raised in "cage-free" environments or produce that's "organic." We may even attempt to hunt and grow our own food, freeing ourselves from a dependency on the industrial food system. Pollan illustrates that answering the question "What should we have for dinner?" should involve more. Stopping to consider exactly how a particular food wound up on our dinner tables will help us all make better informed decisions and will help us understand how what we eat affects our bodies.
Before I read The Omnivore's Dilemma for Book Club this month, I considered grocery shopping one of my favorite things to do. It relaxed me. Yet, I noticed a shift in that love for grocery shopping the first time I stepped into the store after finishing the book. I began to look more closely at the ingredient labels to see how much corn or corn by-products were in the food. I began to question everything that was labeled "organic." I wondered whether the chicken for sale really was "free-range." And it took me fifteen minutes to decide on which milk to buy because I was skeptical of all of the cartons that showed a happy farmer and his cow standing next to a bright red barn. By the time I left the store, my head hurt and I never wanted to shop for food again.
Pollan's book got to me. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I'm constantly thinking about food and cooking. But The Omnivore's Dilemma made me think about (and forced me to become more aware of) what goes into the food I'm putting into my body - from what the animals I consume have eaten to the various ingredients that go into, say, the muffin I ate for breakfast. There are habits I know I'm going to have to break and there are changes I'd that are going to require tweaking my household budget, but I know those changes will be for the better. Those changes will be worth it.
If you haven't read The Omnivore's Dilemma yet, I highly recommend it. Parts of it are tough to get through, whether because of the heaviness of the subject or the graphic descriptions of certain aspects of the industrial food system we don't normally think about, but give the book a try. You'll definitely learn something!
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