Michael Pollan is the author of several books who consistently writes on one thing: food. He does not follow any specific food fads (i.e. veganism, no carbs, etc.). The one thing Pollan cares about, and wants his readers to care about as well, is knowing what you are eating. No, one cannot say “Well, I’m eating a Chalupa Supreme from Taco Bell!” You in fact do not what you are eating, and if you took the time and effort to figure out what exactly you were eating, you may be surprised. This is what Pollan refers to as “our national eating disorder”. We no longer know it is we are eating or where that “food” is coming from.
Pollan breaks his book into three sections: Industrial Corn, Pastoral Grass, and Personal: The Forest. He starts his book out by dissecting the way a stalk of corn is grown, how we made it into the corn it is today, all the way through its well-traveled life. He discusses the implications of growing too much corn and how our government has subsidized this product so much so that we are now facing a “mountain of corn”. Hence, it is no wonder that corn is in so many products (including yogurt, ketchup, aspirin, shoe polish, and thousands more).
In this section he also visits a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) aka the modern animal farm. He gets to see where and how a steer that he purchased is raised and treated. Let me remind you, he is not a vegetarian. He has not stopped eating meat because of some deep love and concern for animals. However, what he discovers at a CAFO in Kansas is intended to change the way his readers look at the “meat” they are eating.
The second section of his book, Grass, not only scrutinizes the industrious “Big Organic”, leaving readers who do buy organically at the supermarket feeling hopeless, but he discusses the idea of buying regionally and seasonally. As one who does buy organic produce and meat (on occasion) and “cage-free eggs”, I was left with the feeling of helplessness. I get it, eat as few processed foods as possible, done. Eat as many “real” or “simple” as possible, done. But don’t waste your time and money especially in buying baby spinach grown in California.
So, that’s the problem. This spinach was grown in California and I live in Virginia. It all started to make sense to me. Not only does Pollan want his reader to be aware of what they are eating, but he wants us to be aware of the environmental damage we are doing by supporting companies who ship their food halfway across the country (and further). So, eat regionally and seasonally. Got it.
The best part, for me, about this chapter is that Pollan devotes several pages to a local farmer here in Virginia, Joel Salitin. If you’ve seen Food, Inc. (if you haven’t, DO!) then you should recognize the name, he runs Polyface Farms. His mantra on raising animals, he wants the chickens to be able to express their “chicken-ness”, the pigs to express their “pig-ness” and so forth. He wants to raise his animals (and plants) naturally, giving his family and customers the best kind of food he can, while also preserving the land in which all of this takes place; a very admirable and encouraging practice. I’m trying to talk Kevin into taking a weekend trip west so we can visit the farm!
Lastly, the Forest, here Pollan wants to close the circle in showing his readers who to eat well (meaning know what and where your food comes from) on all accords. We’ve learned about the unsanitary ways of meat, “Big Organic” produce, going local and seasonal. However, there’s one more food group he wants to find on his own, fungi. The last section may quite possibly, for me, be the least interesting but that’s not to say that I didn’t learn anything; it was very educational. It sort of wrapped all of his ideas into a how-to. He prepared a meal for several guests using only food in which he hunted, gathered, or grew himself, and one of the guests had.
While it is likely that I will still buy meat at the grocery store and decided to take a Sunday off from baking our own bread, I feel much more aware of the process of growing food in our country. I do not agree with the practices of the industrial food market, but until I have my own land in which I can raise chickens and maintain a garden and have a kitchen big enough to spend days upon days of canning and freezing, I’m doing what I can. I encourage the rest of you to do the same.
My Tips on eating more productively:
1. Find a farmer’s market or just a farmer who will sell you certain items. Even if it’s just eggs or just lettuce, it helps. If not, look for local produce in your grocery store.
2. Get to know your farmer. Feel comfortable enough to ask him/her to bring the 2 dozen eggs you need next week.
3. Know the season.
4. Buy in bulk. If you love fresh green beans (as I do) buy a couple pounds from your farmer and freeze them. It’s so simple. Here’s a website I used.
5. Meatless Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday). Eat less meat. In our country we use more fossil fuels in the growing, processing, and transporting of meat than all the cars on the road!! Check out some of my vegetarian recipes! They are divine.
7. Educate yourself. One of the ideas that I took from this read, and it will stick with me, is that next year we will probably have a different cell phone. We will probably have a different cable plan, maybe a different car. However, next year we are all going to have the same body we have today. So, take care of it! One point Pollan hit on was that a the average family today spends less percentage of their income on food than families 30 years ago did. Think about that one. Yes, it’s more expensive to eat healthy (and well), but isn’t it worth it?