Michael Pollan embarked upon an incredible journey throughout America’s Heartland, known as the Corn Belt, to bring us his eye-opening account of just exactly what is behind putting food on our table in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” In the first three chapters of the first section of the book, Industrial: Corn, Pollan not only questions what exactly is in the foods we eat, but also where, precisely, does it come from? Though Pollan covers all the critical elements of a good read; conflict, dastardly villains, and even sex; all with touches of sardonic humor, one must keep in mind this is non-fiction, and be prepared to be shocked and somewhat disturbed at his findings.
At the heart of the story is the discovery that Americans are fast becoming more people of corn, rather than the wheat people we have always been. As everyone knows, the first settlers were introduced to corn by true corn people, the Native Americans. Once their knowledge was imparted to the newbies, they were no longer needed or wanted; thus the first and major conflict of the story ensued (not to mention, enter dastardly villains!). The true villain in this story comes in the form of the government, who spotted the value of this wondrous grain, and capitalized on it, even at the expense of the health of its citizens. Sex in our story may be disappointing to say the least, since this is corn we’re talking about, but interesting, nevertheless. Pollan teaches you much more about the sex life of corn than you thought you ever cared about.
Throughout Pollan’s book, irrefutable facts about corn’s rise to power in America are astounding as he backs them up with plenty of resources, yet infuses enough humor to keep the reader turning those pages. The writer follows the history of one particular farming family over the last century. In the days of this farmer’s grandfather, the bounty from his plot of land was enough to feed his own family along with twelve other Americans. Today, that farm produces enough to feed 129 people, yet sadly cannot support the family that lives on it. The county population has decreased by more than 6,000 people, fences, animals, and green disappearing along with them. Pollan points out that when faced with the problem of surplus poisonous gases and ingredients used for explosives, the government put these to good use applying them to the food we eat, by way of fertilizer and pesticides. The dogs of war never tasted so good!
Some may argue that Pollan is a tough read. Some may say he is a know-it-all. Some may call Pollan a left-wing liberal. Some may be right about some of these things, and that is the beauty of America, everyone is entitled to their opinions. Though there are some passages that are a little tough to follow, if you stick it through, the author fills in the necessary holes, expands on technical jargon, and if knowing your subject qualifies you as a know-it-all, then Pollan is guilty as charged. He has certainly done his homework.
Pollan has done his job with this book. Eyes are open and dander is up. A project that began as one man’s personal quest in discovering what he is putting into his body cannot be ignored as a very significant statement in the health of a nation. This book makes me want to devour all of Pollan’s books, all the while carrying hopes that his bandwagon grows exponentially.