• 25/09/07
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This brilliant extract is from Simon Magazine: “Michael Pollan has emerged as one of the most influential agrarian/botanical voices in the country. He writes for the New York Times magazine, teaches journalism at UC Berkeley, and is the author of three previous books, including the highly readable The Botany of Desire (plus his sister Tracy is married to Michael J. Fox, which makes him Marty McFly’s brother-in-law). The dilemma of the title of Pollan’s latest book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is this: if you can eat everything, what should you eat?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is divided into three parts, each following a principal food chain: industrial, pastoral (encompassing both local and/or organic and a category Pollan calls “industrial organic,” i.e. Whole Foods), and personal – a meal Pollan prepares from ingredients he hunted, gathered or grew himself.

All paths of the industrial food chain lead back to the monoculture of corn, a yield-first capitalist alliance of politics and agribusiness that sprung up after the conversion of ammonium nitrite from munitions to fertilizer after World War II. Huge quantities of subsidized corn are grown in America, and then force-fed to cattle in concentration camp settings called Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Cows are grass-eating herbivores, and feeding them corn often makes them sick, so they’re given prophylactic doses of antibiotics, in addition to growth hormones. Then we eat the meat, and wonder why antibiotics are losing their efficacy and why fourth-graders are getting their periods.

The main narrative flows easily from Kingsolver; she grew up in Kentucky, and her ties to agrarian life have never been erased. The family settles in for a few months, then chooses to begin their year-long experiment in a way that makes the most sense to a farmer: to begin it not with a calendar marked January 1, but with the first appearance of asparagus in late March. For the next twelve months, as readers we are reintroduced to the notion of seasonal produce and eating what’s best when it’s best. What they don’t grow, they pick up at the local farmers’ market, living la vida locavore, as it were.

These books make you hungry in ways that are both simple and complicated. Eating food grown by sustainable methods and by actual human beings can solve the simple part. The more complicated appetite is a desire to break free of the chains of the United States of Monoculture, a system with dangerously few, but ravenously profitable, providers and even fewer meaningful oversights, political or nutritional.

Both Kingsolver and Pollan continue their work online, with a host of links and resources to be found at www.michaelpollan.com and www.animalvegetablemiracle.com. YOU can also listen again to best-selling author of The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver interviewed on BBC Scotland’s Book Cafe here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/radioscotland/programmes/bookcafe

More from our own garden and kitchen tomorrow.