One does not necessarily expect books about food also to be about bigger ideas like oppression, spirituality, and freedom, yet Pollan defies expectations. Pollan begins with an exploration of the food-production system from which the vast majority of American meals are derived. This industrial food chain is mainly based on corn, whether it is eaten directly, fed to livestock, or processed into chemicals such as glucose and ethanol. Pollan discusses how the humble corn plant came to dominate the American diet through a combination of biological, cultural, and political factors. The role of petroleum in the cultivation and transportation the American food supply is also discussed. A fast-food meal is used to illustrate the end result of the industrial food chain.
The following chapter delves into the principles of organic farming and their various implementations in modern America. Pollan shows that as organic food has grown in popularity, its producers have adopted many of the methods of industrial agriculture, while losing sight of the organic movement's anti-industrial roots. A meal prepared from ingredients purchased at Whole Foods represents this food chain at the table. As a study in contrast, Pollan visits a small-scale organic farm, where natural conditions are adhered to as closely as possible, very few artificial inputs are used, and waste products are recycled back into the system. He then prepares a meal using only local produce from small-scale organic farmers.
In the final chapter, Pollan attempting to prepare a meal using only ingredients he has hunted, gathered, or grown himself. He recruits assistance from local food experts, who teach him to hunt feral pigs, gather wild mushrooms, and search for abalone. He also fixes a salad of greens from his own garden, bakes sourdough bread using wild yeast, and prepares a dessert from cherries picked in his neighborhood. Pollan concludes that while such a meal is not practical on a regular basis, but as...
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