In his newest book, "In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto," Michael Pollan sets out to resolve the "Omnivore’s Dilemma," where if you ate industrially produced food you were killing the environment, if you ate industrial organic, you were doing slightly less harm, but the carbon impact of your consumption remains an environmental killer. You could hunt yourself, and become a killer or you could eat food produced on places like Polyface Farms— if you live near such a famed place. Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma was like eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge, it brought an uncomfortable awareness to every meal. I wanted back into the Garden of Eatin’. An Eater’s Manifesto both raises awareness about how we got to a place where food needs to be defended and sets out an alternative path. His advice: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
I pride myself on being an omnivore–at least I did until I read Michael Pollan’s,"The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals." In it, he explains how the food that’s on our plates–whether it’s a Big Mac from McDonald’s, an organic meal purchased at Whole Foods, a local meal produced by a sustainable farm or one that you might hunt for yourself makes it to the table. The book lives up to the dictionary definition of dilemma, "a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives." The story of how food arrives on our plates is complex–but Pollan explains it in heartbreaking detail–the amount of carbon fuel required to produce organic crops, the bushels of corn required to fatten a chicken to the guilty pleasure he gets from hunting–it’s all in there, in wonderful, engrossing detail.
Having read the book, I almost wish that I had not eaten from Pollan’s tree of knowledge–I want back into my ignorant Garden of Eatin’ where I was happy with the stories I purchased from Whole Foods or the convenience of my McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. Though I must continue eating, it’s impossible to revert to ignorance–instead, I have to live in denial. It won’t be the first time. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I lived close to Pollan’s ideal. My family had a garden, kept animals, and prided themselves on growing everything without chemicals and preserving foods through natural processes. When I wanted a turkey for an American style Thanksgiving celebration, they introduced me to my neighbors who introduced me to the turkeys. I thought, "I didn’t want to meet and greet you, I just wanted to eat you." but there I was holding the squirming bird to see if he was big enough. (He was.) I must admit, those were some of the most delectable birds I’ve tasted, but still I longed for the familiar seemingly antiseptic Butterball. They were so much less messy.
All of the sudden those folks who are trying to eat local seem a little bit more rational, and I’m longing for the days when my Lithuanian hosts would go out and grab the eggs from the chicken coop in the morning. I used to fret when I met an animal, and they told me when he was going to expire–"oh, the pig? Easter." I was still living in my saran wrapped cocoon of ignorance. Now my cozy cocoon’s been torn again–and I’m thinking, heh, isn’t New Jersey the Garden State? Maybe there’s an answer on a local farm…