Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Ominvore's Dilemma"

As I may have mentioned recently, in a comment or something, I have begun to work my way through Michael Pollan's, "The Ominvore's Dilemma". I had read many articles by Mr. Pollan (including the "Farmer in Chief" piece), listened to videos, and read various other things by him and about him. But, this is the first time that I have attempted to tackle his most popular piece of writing. When I'm reading some books I like to do a little "book report" after each chapter, but with this bad boy I thought I would just throw out some thoughts from time to time. If you have read the book I would also love to hear what you conclusions were!
  • Mr. Pollan is an evolutionist. There is no doubt about it and it is evident about every other page. I am not an evolutionist and I get kind of tired of reading "this evolved" and "that evolved". I feel like if things evolved one way than they might as well just evolve to the industrial agricultural model, but I don't really want to debate evolution ... plus, he is entitled to his opinion just as I am. One thing though, I can really see the work of creation through much of what Mr. Pollan writes.
  • I always find it interesting to hear the thoughts of an Iowa farmer. It seems liket he guy that Mr. Pollan intervied and spent time with is cut from the same cloth as the farmer that was featured some in "King Corn". But, I know that not all Iowa farmers think like George Naylor ... at least I think so. Mr. Naylor (along with Mr. Pollan) make it seem like corn is grown because to change would be too difficult ... I guess that may make some sense.
  • Just like many others that read this book I am continually surprised at how much stuff corn finds a home in. They always say on "The Big Show" (WHO Radio) that Iowa farmers are feeding the world ... and that truly is the case, but not in the way that some would like to believe. They are doing it through super-duper processed corn, not the idealistic way that it is sometimes portrayed.
  • This is the first time that I have heard about the Federal Granery and the New Deal agricultural policies. I must admit that my ultra-conservative upbringing, leanings, and beliefs makes me cringe at the metion of New Deal projects, but it is an interesting thing that I would love to learn more about. I think understanding the agricultural policy history of our country will help me have better picture of what I understand today. Any thoughts on this subject...
  • Finally, I would be interested to read/hear some contrasting views. I think it would be cool to have a debate between Mr. Pollan and an big agriculture proponent. I have heard some Iowans speak of Mr. Pollan almost as a curse word, but it is always good to hear both sides of the story. I do appreciate the research that Mr. Pollan offers up though!
Remember, if you have read the book I would love to hear what you think!


Yeoman said...

Interesting. I was thinking of reading the Omnivore's Dilemma myself. I'll be interested to see how you find it. On one of your questions:

"This is the first time that I have heard about the Federal Granery and the New Deal agricultural policies. I must admit that my ultra-conservative upbringing, leanings, and beliefs makes me cringe at the metion of New Deal projects, but it is an interesting thing that I would love to learn more about. I think understanding the agricultural policy history of our country will help me have better picture of what I understand today. Any thoughts on this subject..."

The book "Problems Of Plenty" provides an oversight to US farm policy throughout the 20th Century, and includes the New Deal period. It's quite illuminating on the government's various farm programs, and their unintended consequences.

Yeoman said...

Also, while I've only just started reading it, I think you might enjoy The Worst Hard Times, at least in regards to its run up to the Great Depression. I'm not through the book yet, and I'm only up to about 1930 or so, so I'll withhold my overall judgment.

Yeoman said...

"Finally, I would be interested to read/hear some contrasting views. I think it would be cool to have a debate between Mr. Pollan and an big agriculture proponent. I have heard some Iowans speak of Mr. Pollan almost as a curse word, but it is always good to hear both sides of the story. I do appreciate the research that Mr. Pollan offers up though!"

One real frustrating thing to me is that there seems to be a huge division in thought between working farmers, and what they're willing to learn, and those of us around the edges of farming, who do some, but think about it a lot.

I fear that American farmers are a lot like American automobile manufacturers. They know what they know, and they absolutely refuse to think of doing anything any other way. A lot of them have utterly no interest whatsoever in reading about how to do things any other way, and they find people who think about these things, and who have read up on them, and have suggestions, to be frightening.

Because I spend time in and out of the agricultural worlds, it particularly bothers me that a lot of young people who receive agricultural educations come out of school with no concept of these types of debates at all. If I were drafting the Ag School curriculum, I'd include Pollen, Berry and Logson in some mandatory class. It's okay with me if the students read these things and say "baloney", but right now, I fear most American farmers don't know enough, as their minds are closed, and their education is narrow, to even think of how to better use the land. Too many believe "we grown corn because there's no other way." Quite a few probably don't know that corn is crop with less that a century and a half of establishment where they're growing it. Quite a few wheat farmers are farming ground that's been in wheat for less than a century. They don't know that, or they don't understand how it came about.

The ultimate irony of it is that this wasn't always the case. Farmers once thought about this stuff a lot, just like auto makers thought about new innovations a lot. But nothing fails like success.

Toni said...

This will be my first time posting a comment on your blog and I just wanted to say I love you guys. I read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" since it was our college book for last semester. So my view point is of a twenty year old college student. I decided to read the book because of two reasons: (a) it was free to us, and (b) I read about a lot about food, a lot of food blogs about producing food. I agree with you that it is shocking that corn is in so much, I really couldn't believe corn is in almost every processed food out there. It was shocking that someone like me could miss that big fact, I mean I read a lot of different literature about food, but I tended to stay away from the processed stuff. Still, that shocked me from my head to my toes, from there when I did go grocery shopping I started to look at labels, and wow. I already knew about feedlots and factory farming from other research so that wasn't as much a s a shock to me. Yet other college students who I discussed the book with were shocked. This semester are school started buying about 20% grass fed beef for our cafeteria because of the shock that a lot of student felt.

I don't know how far along you are and I don't want to 'spoil' the books but the book also changed my views on the organic industry. You probably already know what he is going to say, but I now know that organic doesn't always mean organic. This book really changed my look on food itself and what I want to do with my life. I mean I am a normal college student but I know that I am not going to be supporting factory farmed meat, I am going to support local farms as much as possible. I always knew that I couldn't live in a box in the city but now after reading this book and reading more about food itself I want to 'know' where my food comes from.

It is a great book and one I will recommend. Sorry if I rambled a bit, but I really love this book.

Andrew the Organic Maven said...

So you want to see a debate between Mr Pollan and a Big Agriculture proponent?
Then check this out
Michael Pollan and Hugh Grant (MD/GM Monsanto) in a 36 minute video debate.

I love the Omnivores Dilemma and I believe there is a lot in what he says - as an organic farmer that would make sense!

Enjoy the rest of the book and then you can read his next one - In Defense of Food.


Christina said...

This is also my first post on your blog. I am a born and bred Iowa farm girl. I grew up on a traditional corn/soybean farm. My dad, the farmer, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and passed away 2 1/2 years ago. "Coincidentally," at last count, 7 other people IN THE COUNTY (and a fairly small, rural county at that) had been diagnosed with brain cancer. That single event started a chain of events for me that has been unstoppable. I got interested in how lifestyle, nutrition and environmental forces impact our lives, and part of my education was "The Omnivore's Dilemma." It was a painful book for a die-hard (only a small pun intended) farmers daughter to digest. To think that the livelihood that we were so proud to participate in could be the root of some of our ills was disheartening. Evolutionary aspects aside, I think Michael Pollan has put together a very well researched, thoughtful book that most farmers and many politicians should read. I think there is a better way!

I can second the vote for "The Worse Hard Times," as well. Probably less directly applicable to a Beginning Farmer than Omnivore, but captivating and telling just the same. Apparently as humans, we like to make the same mistakes over and over!

Seth - said...

I really enjoyed the book and look forward to reading "In Defense of Food" soon - maybe over the holidays. The Salina Journal ran a story with some KS farmers responding to the "Farmer in Chief" piece and they didn't seem like big fans. Oddly, they kept claiming that technology would 'fix' the current problems - lotta faith in science it seems.

They repeated of the oft-used line that sustainable/organic ag cannot produce enough to feed the world. I guess that is up for debate - I don't think we can afford (on many levels) to have big ag keep feeding the world.

Here's the link: Future Farming

Peter said...

It's funny that you say "Mr. Pollan is an evolutionist" like it's a slur -- and such a declaration, like he gets up every morning and puts a name tag on that says "M. Pollan, Evolutionist". But then you say you can see "the work of creation" through what he writes -- could it not be the same for him? I mean, can things evolve after the one Creator makes them? If he is trying to explain, for example, human advancement from the stone age, doesn't it make sense to say humans evolved?

(I know you don't want to debate the topic, but I just found it really odd that you were so dismissive)

Ethan Book said...

Peter - I do not want to debate because the creation/evolution thing is so huge ... it is so big in fact that not even all creationists agree on the idea of creation. So, I'll just throw out a couple of statements. Saying that Mr. Pollan is an evolutionist really wasn't some big proclamation ... it was just what I gathered from reading the book. It would be the same type of thing (in my eyes) if someone read this blog and said, "It is obvious that Ethan is a Christian". I would not take that as a slur ... it is just a fact and I'm happy about it.

As far as things can evolve after the Creator makes them. That is a bigger discussion with lots of variables...

I just hope I can evolve into a wood cutting machine right now :)

Thanks for the comment and for reading the blog. Even though you may challenge me I love to have input of any kind.

**ending debate ... okay, so it really isn't a debate** :)

Ethan Book said...

By the way Peter, I just checked out your website and I wanted to say that you take AMAZING pictures. I love your turkey picture! You make me very jealous.

Liriodendron said...

This post is rather old, but I thought I'd add my two cents. I have not finished this book but I did read Pollan's Farmer in Chief article.

While many of his statements make good common sense, I get a strong and uneasy sense that Pollan does not really want to end the farm subsidy program, only the farm subsidy program as-is. Organic ag. is hugely successful because people want it, not because the government promoted it. HE KNOWS THIS. Yet he harps on about how the government needs to support local farmers, using words to the president like "You must seize control of...". That type of language makes me very uneasy. The government has already seized enough control of my food. Actually, I would imagine that local small farmers really just want the government to get out of their way. At least that is the sense I get. To compete in a fair market without subsidies and price supports that skew the market. Pollan sees to agree with this, but thinks government needs to take more control. How ironic!

I am also very uncomfortable with what I feel are Pollan's dictations as to what we should all eat (mostly plants, not too much meat) and goes on and on about what a problem it is that we are eating 8 oz. meat per day adn that we need to decrease meat consuption to save the planet. So much for human health, I guess. This is offensively paternalistic, and frankly 8 oz. is not a lot and is barely sufficient protein for most people. For someone who claims to believe in evolution he is certainly clueless about an evolutionarily appropriate diet (which should include a lot of meat and not too many plants). He's obviously clueless about insulin resistance and what is causing America's health problems, or at least he was at the time he wrote that article. Shameless self promotion perhaps but here is a little piece I wrote about how America's plate has changed over the past 4 decades. Meat consumption has increased only slightly and red meat consumption has actually gone down. Vegetable and fruit consumption have gone up. Yet Pollan wants us to eat even less meat and more plants. It makes no sense.

Despite that we may disagree on concrete issues, the consumer needs to start deciding and using their brain. We do not need more top down government controls on ag and nutrition. While I'm at it, it seems pretty clear to me that it's not just farm subsidies that have gotten us in this situation but the Dietary Goals of the United States and the lowfat propaganda invented by the McGovern Committee in the 70s... which has now turned into the USDA food pyramid.

I do not want Pollan's dietary dictation over my life, with federal mandates that I carry out one meatless day per week. How would he like it if I told him he would probably be healthier on 7 wheatless days per week? This is not for him or for the government to decide. It's for him to decide on his own best judgment. But unfortunately more government control is where it's going in this country with NAIS, etc. Get ready to be taxed bigtime.

OK I am done ranting now. Pollan does have some good ideas but he is biased in favor of government programs, so long as those programs are supporting people and ideas he approves of. I disagree. Let people decide and take responsibility for themselves.

The suggestion for the two books in this thread is great, since I am interested in learning more about farm policy. I plan on trying to find them.

Peter said...

Fair enough. Thanks for stopping by my site. Peter

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated the way you label him as an "evolutionist". I live in a civilized part of the world where the vast majority of people around me have long accepted the vast amounts of irrefutable peer reviewed scientific proof that has emerged in the last 150 years, confirming the notions that Mr. Darwin was the first to put forward. Hence it always takes me by surprise when I stumble upon a person with a clearly limited education still holding on to outdated (and by a century in this case) notions. Even the Vatican has officially accepted the concept.

I'm assuming you accept the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun (though clearly, in your case, I wouldn't take that necessarily as a given), despite it's contradiction with the Bible. Have you personally witnessed or demonstrated that fact? Most likely not, yet there's a good probability that you do accept the notion. Of course it took 200-300 years for the uneducated to accept that notion as well, though you'd think that in modern times the acceptance cycle wouldn't be as long.

Anyway, just wasting my time here posting an invective as clearly I'm not trying to convince you of anything, nor debate the matter (just as I wouldn't bother debating Heliocentrism with anyone), as you obviously don't have the open-mindedness nor the educational foundation prerequisite.

Steven said...

"Even the Vatican has officially accepted the concept." It's true that John Paul II opened the door to accepting the theory with the understanding that if "evolution" occurred, it only did so under the guidance and planning of God. I just don't want people to get the idea from you that the Vatican is 100% pro-evolution. This is not the case. Neither do I argue that no evolution occurs. I don't really care HOW God populated the earth I just don't believe that it happened by chance.

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