Industry vs. Family: A Tale of Two Farms

Pollan, M. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A natural history of four meals. Penguin Group Inc., New York, NY. pg. 185-273.


What does one think of when they think “soufflé”? Undoubtedly, they think of the immediate taste they’re experiencing; perhaps they’re thinking of the ingredients that have come together to produce the flavors. Certainly, they aren’t thinking about where those ingredients that produce those flavors and form the dish come from, nor where they have been and the experiences they have underwent.

Once again, I am smitten by Pollan’s writing. He is so obviously passionate about his topics, and how we produce, market, and agonize over what we eat. One thing he really gets into depth about is grass. Within the first couple of pages, he regards grass as a keystone species, “the nexus between the solar energy that powers every food chain and the animals we eat” (pg.188). This is interesting, as it’s something I never really thought of: grass is ultimately a way in which we harvest energy from the sun, whether directly (eating a vegetable from the garden) or indirectly (eating an animal which has eaten grass). I never truly realized how accurate it is to call ourselves ‘sun farmers’ – well, true farmers, anyway.

One thing I very much enjoy about Pollan is his writing style, as I’ve mentioned a few times before. He draws us in by telling us his own stories and experiences, which in my opinion, is much better than reading plain facts. Pollan expertly and tactically writes so that his readers can imagine everything he experienced, and immerses them in his own story.

That, to me, is a wonderful thing.

For example, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is an ongoing story he writes about. He mentions previous experiences that he’s already discussed, like when he was watching the herd of cattle: “The last time I stood watching a herd of cattle eat their supper I was standing up to my ankles in cow manure in Poky Feeders pen number 43 in Garden City, Kansas” (pg. 194). This triggered my memory, recalling how disgusted I was in learning how industrial cows are raised. Their food chain reaches all the way back to cornfields in Iowa, to the Gulf of Mexico, and further still; cows that eat grasses eat the sun, so to say. It is obvious quite early that Pollan is pro-grass-eating animals, and I think his intention is to convince the reader the same via his own experiences and facts, and he does an excellent job in doing so.

He also does a wonderful job in explaining and describing how many elements of a pasture work together in order to function. Grass is eaten by cows, who spread and fertilize seed with their manure; cows keep the grass at it’s optimal growing length; chickens root through cow patties to eat the fly larvae within; pigs aerate the cows decomposition into a good compost; compost will feed the grasses, so the grasses can feed the cows, the cows the chicken, and so on. It’s beautifully interconnected, and the farm is “more like an organism than a machine” (pg. 213) – it needs separate structures for it to function optimally. Again, I’ve never thought about it this way before, and it has become more clear to me how farm-grown animals is a more natural choice.

One thing that bothered me throughout this reading is all of the sad truths Pollan points out. First of all, he grudgingly notes that “our civilization and…food system are strictly organized on industrial lines” (pg. 201). That is, they prize consistency, mechanization, and economics, and for those reasons, they use corn to feed livestock. Instead of going for a more natural, ultimately safer and higher quality method of feeding livestock grass, industries go the cheap and efficient route – it’s quite disgusting. Another thing Pollan mentions is how people “put more work into choosing their mechanic or house contractor than they will into choosing the person who grows their food” (pg. 240). This is so true. I, for one, put much more thought into that kind of thing than over where the food I eat comes from, and I’m sure most other people do as well. I think we need to become more aware of this, not just because farm-grown food is higher quality, but because we would also be supporting local farms. This can be summed up nicely by the quote, “instead of mad cow disease, we’ve got glad cows at ease” (pg. 247).

Overall, Pollan really attempts to turn the reader off of industrial-based food and instead focus on farm-grown or local food. After all, “we can still decide, every day, what we’re going to put into our bodies, what sort of food chain we want to participate in” (pg. 257). Instead of going for a bland industrial meal, why not try a tastier, more rich local meal? It’s definitely something I am increasingly considering after reading Pollan’s explanations.

So, thinking about that soufflé again. Next time I’m eating a dish, I will concentrate on the ingredients and where exactly they come from, so I can focus on “where this sublime bite began” (pg. 273).


One thought on “Industry vs. Family: A Tale of Two Farms

  1. You’re entirely right about the writing style that Pollan adapts, it’s so interesting and persuasive all at the same time. He’s been my favourite author throughout this semester, and I think that’s because he challenges the reader to think. I also very much admire his irrepressible, stubborn need to investigate fully and report with true experience to back it up. I too have been rethinking the origins of my food every time since reading this.


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