The Omnivore’s Dilemma: February Discussion Notes

I have yet to speak to anyone who was not impressed with Michael Pollan’s book.  To me, the reason we have been so affected by the information in his writings is largely due to the lack of access to such elsewhere.  A lifetime of corporate and government marketing informing us about what our food choices should be has left impaired our judgement.  We are left alienated from what producing and consuming food is really all about. Many thanks to Sandy and Kyle for sharing your thoughts and insights and inspirations.  Here are some major points and ideas that arose during our discussion this month:

Corn, corn, everywhere:

It was shocking to learn that on average 1/4 of all food sold in a super market contains corn.  Why?  The government has created, sustained and managed a surplus.  Sometimes the motives have been good, sometimes questionable (or worse).  Regardless, now our economy is tangled in it.  We all pay the price, farmers and consumers alike.

 In the United States, Pollan makes clear, we’re mostly fed by two things: corn and oil. We may not sit down to bowls of yummy petroleum, but almost everything we eat has used enormous amounts of fossil fuels to get to our tables. Oil products are part of the fertilizers that feed plants, the pesticides that keep insects away from them, the fuels used by the trains and trucks that transport them across the country, and the packaging in which they’re wrapped. We’re addicted to oil, and we really like to eat.

Oil underlines Pollan’s story about agribusiness, but corn is its focus. American cattle fatten on corn. Corn also feeds poultry, pigs and sheep, even farmed fish. But that’s just the beginning. In addition to dairy products from corn-fed cows and eggs from corn-fed chickens, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup make up key ingredients in prepared foods. High-fructose corn syrup sweetens everything from juice to toothpaste. Even the alcohol in beer is corn-based. Corn is in everything from frozen yogurt to ketchup, from mayonnaise and mustard to hot dogs and bologna, from salad dressings to vitamin pills. “Tell me what you eat,” said the French gastronomist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “and I will tell you what you are.” We’re corn.

Each bushel of industrial corn grown, Pollan notes, uses the equivalent of up to a third of a gallon of oil. Some of the oil products evaporate and acidify rain; some seep into the water table; some wash into rivers, affecting drinking water and poisoning marine ecosystems. The industrial logic also means vast farms that grow only corn. When the price of corn drops, the solution, the farmer hopes, is to plant more corn for next year. The paradoxical result? While farmers earn less, there’s an over-supply of cheap corn, and that means finding ever more ways to use it up.(taken from

 What can we do?  Read labels, if there is no need for corn in the product that you are buying, don’t buy it.

 The American Feedlot:

In taking a closer look at where most meat comes from, one cannot look away unchanged.  Pollan purchases and follows the life of a feedlot cow.  In the process, he uncovers the environmental and ethical horrors of the process.

 What can we do?  Know where your meat comes from.  If cost is a factor, eat it less often, but buy the good stuff.  Buy from local, trustworthy sources such as Dave’s Meat and Produce on I St.  or The Meat Shop of Tacoma (, or my personal favorite option: don’t eat meat.

Know Your Alternatives:

The picture isn’t entirely bleak.  There are farms and communities that are getting it right.  Call it the slow food revolution, the organic lifestyle or living locally, there are many names for bringing food back to the basics.  Pollan closely follows farmer Joel Salatin to see farming is it was meant to be.  At Polyface Farms in Virginia Salatin follows the Principle “All Flesh is Grass”.  Joel considers himself a grass farmer or even more appropriately a sun farmer.  Ultimately, this is where all energy and life that grows for consumption is created.   To learn more about these amazing, pure and commonsense practices visit their website at


For most of us, other then picking blackberries from the roadside during the summer, the idea of foraging for food isn’t practical.  However, Kyle came up with a great idea for urban foraging. During the warm weather months, we all pass homes in our neighborhood (or elsewhere), that have saturated fruit trees that appear to be unattended.  Why not approach these home owners?  Maybe even offer to harvest their crop in exchange for a share.  In addition, plan a swap or share with friends and neighbors that you already know.  To take it one step further, contact a local farm and offer a work for food exchange.  There is free food to be found!

One Response to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: February Discussion Notes”

  1. minuetst says:

    From Allison:

    I wanted to address Kyle’s comment about asking neighbors about harvesting their fruit. My husband did that last summer with our neighbors plum tree and they were thrilled to have us harvest instead of having to clean up rotting fruit all over their yard. I felt a little weird about it at first, but it turned out to be a win win for everyone involved so I think it is a great idea and we should do more of that.

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