The Omnivore’s Dilemma | Book Review

Updated: May 5, 2021

Trying to cultivate a healthy and environmentally friendly diet in the age of the industrial agricultural complex - that is the Omnivore's Dilemma.

a cartoon image showing people trying to transition from a omnivorous diet to vegetarian diet

The Omnivore's Dilemma – a book written by Micheal Pollan, an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley could be split into two sections.

The first section is dedicated to an exposé of modern agriculture where the reader is taken on a tour through the vast industrial agricultural complex. But be warned, this tour is by no means a pleasant trip on an open-top bus. It's a neck-jerking roller coaster ride through a House of Horrors where we get to glimpse the disturbing process by which contemporary agribusiness really produces our food.

The second part chronicles the author’s experiences of trying to replicate the hunter gatherer lifestyle. Pollen challenges himself to produce a meal free from food produced, caught and slaughtered by anyone other than himself.

The focus of this scattering of thoughts is on the first section: modern agriculture and how it’s shaping our diet – for the worse.

King of the Crop

a field of corn showing the ubiquity of this crop and how it is harming the environment

Few people understand the culinary power and immense versatility of corn – or zea mays. Corn is the single most ubiquitous food stuff across the western hemisphere.

Amazingly corn has been chemically and molecularly deconstructed so that it can be used in a staggering number of consumable items – roughly ten thousand which includes ‘nonfood items as well as everything from toothpaste and cosmetics to disposable diapers, trash bags, cleaners, charcoal briquettes, matches, and batteries, right down to the shine on the cover of magazines,’ (pp19).

‘The intricacies of this process are worth following, since they go some distance toward explaining how corn could have conquered our diet and, in turn, more of the earth’s surface than virtually any other domesticated species,’ (pp20).

But corn’s merit and worth does not solely reside in its versatile and culinary application. It is also extremely responsive to genetic engineering and it is one of the hardiest crops known to man. Which explains why it covers ‘more of the earth’s surface than any other domesticated species.’

However, corn - the king of the crops - has its dark side.