The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I recently read a fantastic book, the title the same as this post, by author Michael Pollan. I wanted to write down some of the best quotes I have from it. If you like these I have some more, or indeed, read the book. Very informative for anyone concerned about what it is we, as a western culture, are feeding ourselves:


My two favourites:


Page 332; ‘I remember a story Joel told me of a man who showed up at the farm one Saturday…He explained that after being a vegetarian for sixteen years he had decided that the only way he could ever eat meat again was if he killed the animal himself. So Joel grabbed a chicken and took the man into the processing shed.

Page 245; ‘Our food system depends on consumers’ not knowing much about it beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner. Cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring…Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds. This is why the rules of world trade explicitly prohibits products from telling even the simplest stories – ‘dolphin safe’, ‘humanely slaughtered,’ etc. – about how they were produced.’


And some more:

Sometimes I think that all it would take to clarify our feelings about eating meat, and in the process begin to redeem animal agriculture, would be to simply pass a law requiring all the sheet metal walls of all the CAFOs, and even the concrete walls of the slaughterhouses, to be replaced with glass. If there’s any new right we need to establish, maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look. No doubt the sight of some of these places would turn many people into vegetarians. Many others would look elsewhere for their meat, to farmers willing to raise and kill their animals transparently.’

Page 106; ‘Natural selection predisposed us to the taste of sugar and fat…because sugars and fats offer the most energy (which is what a calorie is) per bite. Yet in nature – in whole foods – we seldom encounter these nutrients in the concentrations we now find them in processed foods…You begin to see why processing foods is such a good strategy for getting people to eat more of them. The power of food science lies in its ability to…push our evolutionary buttons, fooling the omnivore’s inherited food selection system. Add fat or sugar to anything and it’s going to taste better on the tongue of an animal that natural selection has wired to seek out energy dense foods.’

Page 131; ‘ “You know what the best kind of organic certification would be? Make an unannounced visit to a farm and take a good long look at the farmer’s bookshelf. Because what you’re feeding your emotions and thoughts is what this is really all about. The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview. You can learn more about that by seeing what’s sitting on my bookshelf than having me fill out a whole bunch of forms”’ (Joel Salatin on the hypocrisy of the label ‘Organic’)

Page 146; [On Baron Justus von Liebig and his ‘discovery of NPK’] ‘He broke down the quasi-mystical concept of fertility in soil into a straightforward inventory of the chemical elements plants require for growth…N-P-K…The NPK mentality serves as a shorthand for both the powers and limitations of reductionist science. For as followers of Liebig discovered, NPK ‘works’: If you give plants these three elements, they will grow…Since treating the soil as a machine seemed to work well enough, at least in the short term, there no longer seemed any need to worry about such quaint things as earthworms and humus.’

Page 167; [On Earthbound’s (a salad producer) lettuce production at the processing plant in San Juan Bautista] ‘The plant washes and packs 2.5 million pounds of lettuce a week…It represents a stupendous amount of energy: to run the machines and chill the building, not to mention to transport all that salad to supermarkets across the country in refrigerated trucks and to manufacture the plastic containers it’s packed in. A one-pound box of prewashed lettuce contains 80 calories of food energy. According to Cornell ecologist David Pimentel, growing, chilling, washing, packaging, and transporting that box of organic salad to a plate on the East Coast takes more than 4,600 calories of fossil fuel energy, or 57 calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food. (These figures would be about 4 percent higher if grown conventionally)’.

Page 183 ; ‘Today it takes between seven and ten calories to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate…Industrial organic farmers often wind up burning more diesel fuel than their conventional counterparts: In trucking bulky loads of compost across the countryside and weeding their fields, a particularly energy intensive process involving extra irrigation…and extra cultivation. All told, growing food organically uses about a third less fossil fuel than growing it conventionally, according to David Pimentel, though that savings disappears if the compost is not produced on site or nearby…So is an industrial organic food chain a contradiction in terms? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it is.’

Page 189; ‘The simplest way to capture the sun’s energy in a form food animals can use is by growing grass.’

Page 223; ‘ “There’s not a spreadsheet in the world that can measure the value of maintaining forest on the northern slope of a farm.”’ (Those wishing to buy land in the future take note!)

Page 240; ‘He [Joel Salatin] believes the only meaningful guarantee of integrity [of food bought] is when buyers and sellers can look one another in the eye…”Don’t you find it odd that people will put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food?”’.


Page 248; ‘He [Dr. Weston Price, 1930s dentist] travelled all over the world researching diets of the healthiest, longest-lived populations, and found certain common denominators in their diets: They ate lots of meat and fats from wild or pastured animals; unpasteurized dairy products; unprocessed whole grains; and foods preserved by fermentation.’

Page 304; ‘The meat industry understands that the more people know about what happens on the kill floor, the less meat they’re likely to eat.’

Page 326; ‘Killing animals is probably unavoidable no matter what we choose to eat…If our goal is to kill as few animals as possible people should probably try to eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least cultivated land: Grass finished steaks for everyone…The world is full of places where the best, if not the only, way to obtain food from the land is by grazing (and hunting) animals on it – especially ruminants, which alone can transform grass into protein.’

Page 389; ‘It can be hard work, hunting and gathering, but in the end it isn’t really the work that produces the food you’re after, this effort for that result, for there’s no sure correlation between effort and result. And no deserving of this: I felt none of the sense of achievement you feel at the end of a season in a garden, when all your work has paid off in the bounty of the harvest. No, this felt more like something for nothing, a wondrous and unaccountable gift.’


One response to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma

  1. That lettuce quote is shocking! Sounds like a great book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s