Friday, March 19, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

If Food Inc. was the 90 minute encapsulated story of our corrupt modern day food system, then this book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, is the six part mini-series.

This was a great read. I'm really liking this author right now. He isn't too much of a nut job, more of a recent convert. I actually watched Oprah last week because he was going to be on the program - I've never seen her show before.

He basically lays out his own journey of self discovery and revelation concerning the meat industry, the poultry industry, farming, chemical farming, corn subsidies, sustainable living, the hypocrisy of the "organic industry" - I'm looking at you, Whole Foods, etc.

He tells firsthand, about his forays into these areas and the eye-opening results. He explains that, somehow, killing the chickens and shooting a wild pig himself, made him appreciate their sacrifice when he later sat down to eat them.

Pollan lays bare the deceptive labeling practices in the food industry, especially the "organic" foods.

I have to say that this book actually created more questions than answers. And the author readily acknowledges this problem at the conclusion of the book. Once again, its not a matter of becoming completely sustainable - a near impossibility in our modern day food economy. Its simply a matter of taking small steps to move closer towards a sustainable lifestyle.

This book was a quick read - I think I tore through it in less than 48 hours. I'm now convinced that his other two books - In Defense of Food, and Food Rules - have become must-reads if I can get my hands on them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Food Inc.

During college, my fiance (now my wife) announced to me that she was a soon-to-be vegetarian. This came as quite a shock to me as she had never mentioned anything of the sort up to this point. I was a bit stunned and wasn't sure what to think. I was a little bit angry with her for coming to this decision without mentioning it to me at all.

In my mind, if she was going to be a vegetarian, then I was going to be one as well. There was no doubt about it. We did everything together. I wasn't going to let her go it alone, even if I had no idea how exactly to extract meat from our diet.

There had been some clues leading up to the announcement. She had always been an animal lover. She had been a financial contributor to PETA, though acknowledging that their philosophy went "too far." She couldn't really eat red meat anyways, because of a disease that makes it hard for her digestive system to process it.

So basically, she was going to cut out chicken. (More importantly - chicken fingers - as almost every young girl between the ages of 12 and 22 lives off of chicken fingers. Just ask any waiter in a restaurant).

The eating of fish was and never really has been an issue for either of us.

There was an article in Newsweek by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in April of 1999 that really hit home with both of us. We still have the article:

I Don't Like Green Eggs And Ham!
Industrial Farming Isn't Just Bad For Hogs, Chickens And The Environment. It Produces Tasteless Food.

Long story, short - we figured out how to remove meat from our diet, added some new "vegetarian" items into it, and life went on enjoyably.

Our vegetarianism lasted a few years. What killed it was our love for occasionally eating out at restaurants - it was just too hard to be a vegetarian at most restaurants. When we finally did introduce meat back into the diet, we took it slowly and carefully.

We definitely buy into the theory that over-consumption has prompted over-production in the food industry. We still eat very little red meat. We might eat out once a week and its almost never for fast food - fast food is practically a bad word in our house. We love to cook at home. Many of our "vegetarian" recipes from the college days have survived to this day!

We wouldn't think of putting meat into chili or spaghetti or shepard's pie. We also still regularly visit the "vegetarian" alternative section of the supermarket - boca patties, veggie burgers, etc. We eat eggs again, but we go out of our way to buy the packages that make statements such as "free range", "hormone free", "vegetarian fed", etc.

That is our very brief history of poorly attempted sustainable living.

I really didn't think I'd learn anything from watching Food Inc., as we've been well versed in much of the food industry's antics.

I was wrong.

I learned quite a bit more from Food Inc. Things I wish that I could unlearn.

I don't want to give an exhaustive explanation of the movie because I think that it is 90 minutes well spent by anyone. Just as Supersize Me was a few years back. (You can watch the film for free on Hulu - the guy eats McDonald's every day, every meal for 30 days and it almost kills him. McDonald's got rid of their Supersize menu after that.)

Food Inc. really just kicked me further into the rabbit hole of just how corrupt our food system has become. How I can't really trust any of the labels on my food - because they're just another marketing scam to take advantage of my sensibilities.

That said, I'm on to read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He was one of the main contributors to the the film. (FYI, the film also referenced another pertinent predecessor, Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, which I read a while back as well. It didn't hit home so much because we don't really eat fast food to begin with.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010


My wife recently said that I was the most nostalgic person that she knows. I think she meant it as an insult, but I'll take it as a compliment.

I would agree that I've been more nostalgic as of late. I think it has to do with a few different factors. For one, I'm quickly closing in on a mid-point in my life - of course, that's optimistically assuming that I'll live to see 70 or 80 and not die of a heart attack at 52 like my father. Otherwise, I've already passed the mid-point.

Second, I've recently become a father of a little boy, and soon to be, a little girl as well. This definitely causes me to give a great deal of thought to how I was raised.

Third, my father's passing two years ago has had me in a retrospective mood ever since. Thinking about what he was able to accomplish and what he had wished to accomplish.

Fourth, I've reached an impasse, career-wise, and I've made the decision to pursue a more fulfilling career path. Let's face it, I haven't really had a "career" at all these past ten years, just a series of paychecks.

The instance that spurred this comment from my wife, was when she saw multiple episodes of the Roseanne show saved on the DVR. She attributed this to nostalgia. Actually, I'd say that my being drawn to this show is more than nostalgia. If it were simply nostalgia, I'd also be recording the Cosby Show and Home Improvement.

No. The reason that I'm drawn to Roseanne is that same reason that it really struck a cord with me during my childhood - I can relate to it.

My family didn't fight like the Conners. My family was a little more on the "church-going" side of the middle-lower class rung of the ladder. But I definitely grew up around families like the Conners. And the Mid-western middle-lower class lifestyle was the most resounding aspect of the show that I could relate to.

I've tried to think of other shows that pulled this off and couldn't really come up with any. Maybe "My Name is Earl"? No. That show is just goofy, and purely done for the comedic effect. Nothing about it seems "real." The characters are extreme characterizations of "white trash" stereotypes.

How about "Malcom in the Middle"? Again, this show isn't grounded in enough reality to make it impactful.

It's funny. I used to think that Roseanne was too real, and not funny enough. But now I actually appreciate this aspect of the show.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Horizontal axis shows months. Vertical axis shows the ratio of that month’s nonfarm payrolls to the nonfarm payrolls at the start of recession.

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