Last night, after finishing Alexie's Flight, I picked up a book I knew I wouldn't finish in one sitting: Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. I hesitated at first. See, I've been wanting to read this one since I ordered it back in January. But it was likely to be a keeper, and you might recall I was trying to read the get-rid-ofs first. Then, yesterday, I threw caution to the wind and actually took WITHOUT READING some of the get-rid-ofs straight to McKay. I figured if they had sat there for that long untouched and the desire to get rid of them was still not inducing me to read them, they should just go. So, go they did. I got some cash from the ones they took and spent my old yellow trade bucks and washed my hands of McKay. Since they've moved, the appeal of shopping there has greatly diminished, so I've decided to throw my business to one of the closer used books sellers. In fact, a new one has just opened on Brainerd Road, just through the tunnels, and though I've yet to go in, it has definite promise.
Back to Pollan. My secondary hesitation came because of the proximity to Leonard's The Story of Stuff. I didn't want to become overwhelmed by the politics of our agri-consumerism. I'm reading more social scientific books these days than novels or poetry, and I'm not sure what to make of that shift. I've apparently and unforgivably forgotten about "timshel" from East of Eden - one of my favorite books of all time - perhaps because I'm so full of this information about coal mining and aluminum manufacturing and living wages and corn production. In fact, I almost chose to re-read East of Eden last night in lieu of the Pollan for just that reason. I don't want to lose those vital connections to story. But Pollan's narrative is as compelling as Steinbeck's - maybe moreso because it is so present.
I've just finished the first section where he traces the industrial food chain from the corn field to the McDonald's meal. Once again, I am convicted and bemused and astonished and confirmed all at once. I haven't quite brought myself to pour out the Coffee-Mate in my fridge, but I'm close. I did call my dad and thank him for raising such healthy and happy grass-fed beef cattle. I am going to try my hardest to not buy mass-market meats ever again. There is just so much wrong with the CAFO model, and though my consumer choices may not make any difference in the global economy, my purchases will make a difference to me and to my family.
Some of the most forceful passages so far:
That perhaps is what the industrial food chain does best: obscure the histories of the foods it produces by processing them to such an extent that they appear as pure products of culture rather than nature. (115)
On the idea of McDonald's as comfort food:
...after a few bites I'm more inclined to think they're selling something more schematic than that - something more like a signifier of comfort food. So you eat more and eat more quickly, hoping somehow to catch up to the original idea of a cheeseburger or French fry as it retreats over the horizon. And so it goes, bite after bite, until you feel not satisfied exactly, but simply, regrettably, full. (119)
Next, he moves into what he calls the Pastoral food chain - an alternative to the industrial model growing in response to demand from consumers like myself. I'll be interested to see what he reveals in this segment.
An interesting side note: for dinner tonight, I made a "salad" from black beans, edamame, wheat berries, tomato, onion, oil, and red wine vinegar, and it was really delicious. I felt very appropriately meat and corn-product free (I think?).