The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan

Posted 7 June, 2013 by Trish in In the Kitchen, Review / 27 Comments

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TitleThe Omnivore’s Dilemma
Author: Michael Pollan
Narrator: Scott Brick
Published: 2006 Pages: 450
Audio Duration: 15 hrs; 58 min
Genre: Non-Fiction (Food)
Rating: 4/5

In Short: “Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating.” (quoted directly from the website)

Why I Listened: I’ve been hearing a lot about Michael Pollan for the past couple of years and my coworker who is also an avid audio listener highly recommended listening to his books. After querying where to begin, most folks said The Omnivore’s Dilemma was the perfect starting point for Pollan.

Thoughts in General: As noted above, there are three main sections of the book and my reaction while listening went like this: Guilt/Shame for eating processed foods, Interest and fascination over the organic movement, and Slight Boredom over mushroom hunting. At times The Omnivore’s Dilemma is the book you don’t want to read because you don’t want to hear the truths about America’s food industry and the associated politics, though I never felt that Pollan was lecturing or belittling anyone’s choices. Instead Pollan often presented both sides of the argument and asked many questions that might not have an immediate answer at this time. In the end I feel more enlightened than weighed down by guilt.

What can you expect to learn from listening to/reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma? These are the nuggets that stick out to me: Corn is everywhere and in everything! Some sad sad things happen to the animals at the animal farm (while Pollan doesn’t go into great detail, there were moments where my stomach turned). How the organic movement evolved into Big Organic versus Little Organic industries. In many cases it would take a literal act of congress to change the American food industry. Mushrooms are a mysterious organism and hunting for them is quite the expedition. And much much much more.

Bottom Line: I absolutely recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma. While the entire book might not be of interest to you, there is certainly something for everyone. I am certain that you will glean new information from Pollan’s narrative and this book is likely to spark your own dialogue with others. One of the biggest takeaways I had from The Omnivore’s Dilemma is that we make conscious food choices and by exercising those choices we make a statement. After listening to this one I won’t be making any big earth-shattering changes to my eating habits but I will think about food differently. Sometimes awareness is the first step.

A Note on the Audio: This was my first experience with Scott Brick (I know, right?!) and while I didn’t find his narration earth shattering (to catch you up to speed, Brick is apparently The audio man) I found his narration to be very easy listening. Straight-forward, comfortable pacing, easy to understand and focus on but at the same time unobtrusive. I definitely recommend the audio (I have the paper copy of the book but didn’t even bother to pull it off the shelf).

Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or other Michael Pollan books? What was your takeaway? If you haven’t, are you interested or is this generally something you keep away from with a 10 foot pole? 

Every weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  “Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.”  Hope you’ll join the fun!

27 Responses to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan”

  1. I have this book on tape in my TBH pile (to be heard). Can’t wait! (the one I’m on now however is 1,000 disks – I may have to drive to Alaska and back to finish it!) :–)

  2. This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, but am afraid to actually do it. Mostly for the reasons you’ve stated. I know it’s going to make me feel guilty and I don’t know if I’m ready to overhaul my family’s diet. I try to avoid processed foods, but there are still some I’m not ready to let go. Your review makes me feel a little better in that you didn’t feel guilty by the end. That makes me more inclined to pick it up.

    I still haven’t listened to a Scott Brick audio book. I need to, but I haven’t found one that he narrates that I’ve been really interested in. Maybe I’ll try this one out. I do have a credit that I haven’t figured how to use yet.

  3. So I have to tell you – my reaction to the processed food section was not one of shame or guilt, but absolute horror. That stomach-turning you felt during some of the animal sections? I felt that in listening to the processed food sections, and indeed it was months, maybe even longer than a year, before I felt compelled to pick up anything processed again. I’ve been thinking of relistening just to turn myself off processed food again! I listened to it right as I decided not to eat any fast food for six months, and instead, I haven’t had fast food, except in maybe 5 no-other-option instances, in about two years. I keep thinking of the percentage of corn in everything, haha! :D

  4. I haven’t (still) read any Pollan, alas. I think this is the one I’d pick up if I was going to. I feel like I know everything he says, though, without spending the time. :-/

  5. I have two unread copies of this. One paperback on my shelves and one digital copy that I bought when I forgot that I had the paperback. So yeah, I need to read it. Maybe twice!

  6. I read this book a few years ago and really enjoyed it! It’s information heavy, but pretty interesting.

    Although the main thing I remember from reading it now is what you said – Corn is in EVERYTHING. I never knew I would learn so much about corn.

  7. A friend of mine has a son who’s allergic to corn and it was VERY difficult to find things he could eat so I knew there was corn in everything. I think that’s why the average American is heavier than they used to be.

  8. Joy

    I’ve read several Pollan books but, oddly enough, not this one. My husband read it so I felt like I didn’t have to. This book and In Defense of Food had a big impact on how we eat now. Much more local and home-cooked.

    Joy’s Book Blog

  9. I have enjoyed and learned so much from all the Michael Pollan I’ve read! I just got his latest, “Cooked,” a few weeks ago at one of his speaking engagements. If you have a chance to see him talk about his writing, take it.

  10. I have heard alot about this book and should read it one day. It is interesting how corn is subsidized by the government and found in everything here in the US. I think if we knew the truth about many foods we would never touch them again.

  11. I have this book on my pile and I it is right up my alley but I’ve as of yet only paged through various parts of it. My excuse is I’m not a fan of nonfiction but this one is important and a topic I’m interested in.

  12. I have heard lots of good things about this book and have wanted to read it but I think I am a bit “scared” about reading about the processed foods, etc. I try to make good choices but sometimes you also think you are making good choices and come to find out they aren’t as good. The food industry is an interesting machine isn’t it?

  13. I’ve kind of been scared off by Pollan because I didn’t want to feel guilt or shame for eating processed foods. Even more, I didn’t want to feel them about feeding processed foods to my kids. But it sounds like I could read this and just be inspired. Maybe not to make wholesale changes but at least to start the process (no pun intended!).

  14. I like Pollan and think his advice is solid and sane. THe more Americans learn about our food supply the better chance we have to make changes.

  15. Oh, no! I love corn. Popcorn, corn on the cob, corn tortillas, corn muffins, Corn Chex, caramel corn. I even like corn syrup and will lick it straight off the spoon after measuring it! I don’t think I’ll be reading this book! ;)

  16. I haven’t read this, but I did recently learn how much corn is in everything from a few friends who avoid it. Had a friend with a baby allergic to corn and she gave up nursing because avoiding it was too hard for her.

  17. I recently reviewed his latest (Cooked) on my blog, and I just love ALL of his nonfiction. As you said, they don’t necessarily make me overhaul all of my food choices, but I feel like a more aware consumer and it does make me think before I put things in my mouth. I HIGHLY recommend In Defense of Food, that one probably made me think the most!

  18. I love Michael Pollan! Though, whenever I read anything by him I immediately feel guilty about some of the things I eat, too. BUT sometimes you just can’t help it. I think so long as we’re eating healthy, whole foods in moderation, it’s okay to go processed once in a while. As long as we make SOME effort. And yeah, I knew that about corn — crazy!

  19. This is on my list (the someday list?) but I think I will go with print rather than audio. Nonfiction can be fabulous but I always wish I had the text to doublecheck things.

  20. I like Michael Pollan and thinks he makes a lot of sense. Listened to this one several years ago and decided that audio is definitely the best way for me to read Pollan – it’s the type of nonfiction I might not get through in print.

    Just listened to his new one, Cooked, last month. This time he narrates the book himself and does a fine job. I really need to get a review written soon…

  21. Les

    I’ve had this on my list for ages. It’s been almost exactly four years since I read In Defense of Food, which I loved. Just reread my post and decided I’ve been slacking on my reviews. Those earlier posts had so much more content! Sigh.

  22. Ooo I have this one on my shelf to read as well. I think I need to start incorporating one non-fiction every month or two or I never end up reading them. Think it’s a result of my bachelor’s degree where I read a TON of non-fiction. Need to get back into that groove.

  23. In college I found myself writing several papers about food so Pollan was frequently in my research endeavors. However, I’ve never read one of his books all the way through. I usually read the chapters that were most applicable to whatever I was researching. I do have a deep desire to go back and actually read through some of these books in their entirety. I agree that Omnivore’s Dilemma is a good place to start. Maybe I’ll ditch the book and try the audio.