Michael Pollan is a professor in UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism (my alma mater) who writes about the science of food. His last book, Botany of Desire, was a mind-opening story of apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes, and their coevolutionary relationship with humans. Pollan's new book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, explores the surprising sources of our daily diets. From Bonnie Powell's article at the UC Berkeley NewsCenter:
"Imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we're eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost," writes Pollan in "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals."
By the time readers reach this passage, which comes at the very end of the book, they will be able to answer at length. They will have tagged along as Pollan traces the path from earth to plate taken by four meals – from McDonald's, Whole Foods, a small Virginia farm, and a "first person" dinner that he killed, foraged, and grew himself. Pollan is a genial tour guide through a variety of disciplines. Along the way to his main destinations – the feedlot where "his" steer is being fattened, the vast facility where organic baby lettuces are being washed and bagged, the pasture in which chickens joyfully root through cow manure, or the forest where he is helping to disembowel a wild boar he has just shot – he delivers fascinating mini-lectures on agricultural history, plant biology, food chemistry, nutrition, and the animal-rights debate…
If you're hoping that Pollan will put an end to our food anxiety by just telling us what to eat, forget it. "I don't think it's a journalist's job to issue shopping lists or policy descriptions," Pollan explains over lunch. "We're supposed to show people how the world is, to give them the tools they need to make good decisions as citizens or consumers. Depending on what your values are – the environment, your health, animal welfare – the answers are going to be different for every person."