Reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

The Omnivore’s Dilemma” has been my free-time book for the past month or so. I’ve been reading when I’ve had the chance– which is more rare as I start graduate studies. But the book is pertinent to my interests, both academic and personal, so I share my thoughts here.


Author Michael Pollan‘s later chapters deal with the ethics of being an omnivore, including issues of meat consumption. (There’s a whole can of worms there that I won’t get into now–no pun intended.) A different ethical issue, however, was culturally-rooted: Pollan asserts that Americans, having no culinary culture (like France, Italy, Japan, Indonesia, or most other countries of the world), fall victim to food faddism. It’s difficult for us, as a country, to communally identify and agree upon what we should and should not eat. And this leads to susceptibility to fad diets, trying new industrial food products, uncertainty about whether alcohol is or isn’t good for our health, and so on.

Perhaps traditional/cultural food wisdom is not just advice of sages and old wives, but provides time-tested advice regarding consumption:

The French eat all sorts of supposedly unhealthy foods, but they do it according to a strict and stable set of rules: They eat small portions and don’t go back for seconds; they don’t snack; they seldom eat alone; and communal meals are long, leisurely affairs. In other words, the French culture of food successfully negotiates the omnivore’s dilemma, allowing the French to enjoy their meals without ruining their health.
-The Omnivore’s Dilemma, p. 301

Is Pollan correct about culture of food? Does the American lack of cuisine predispose us to unhealthy eating habits? Or is this romanticism of foreign customs–a blindness to different troubles that other cultures face, perhaps different than our own?

Thoughts are welcome. Also, I recommend the book. It gets you thinking on a number of levels about food, which is one of the most elemental aspects of being a living creature on earth. Happy eating…


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