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The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals | [Michael Pollan]

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

"What should we have for dinner?" To one degree or another, this simple question assails any creature faced with a wide choice of things to eat. Anthropologists call it the omnivore's dilemma. Choosing from among the countless potential foods nature offers, humans have had to learn what is safe, and what isn't. Today, as America confronts what can only be described as a national eating disorder, the omnivore's dilemma has returned with an atavistic vengeance.
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Publisher's Summary

The best-selling author of The Botany of Desire explores the ecology of eating to unveil why we consume what we consume in the 21st century.

"What should we have for dinner?" To one degree or another, this simple question assails any creature faced with a wide choice of things to eat. Anthropologists call it the omnivore's dilemma. Choosing from among the countless potential foods nature offers, humans have had to learn what is safe, and what isn't, which mushrooms should be avoided, for example, and which berries we can enjoy. Today, as America confronts what can only be described as a national eating disorder, the omnivore's dilemma has returned with an atavistic vengeance.

The cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast-food outlet has thrown us back on a bewildering landscape where we once again have to worry about which of those tasty-looking morsels might kill us. At the same time we're realizing that our food choices also have profound implications for the health of our environment. The Omnivore's Dilemma is best-selling author Michael Pollan's brilliant and eye-opening exploration of these little-known but vitally important dimensions of eating in America.

We are indeed what we eat, and what we eat remakes the world. A society of voracious and increasingly confused omnivores, we are just beginning to recognize the profound consequences of the simplest everyday food choices, both for ourselves and for the natural world. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a long-overdue book and one that will become known for bringing a completely fresh perspective to a question as ordinary and yet momentous as "What shall we have for dinner?"

©2006 Michael Pollan; (P)2006 Penguin Audio

What the Critics Say

  • National Book Critics Circle 2006 Award Finalist, Nonfiction

"Remarkably clearheaded book....A fascinating journey up and down the food chain." (Publishers Weekly)
"His supermeticulous reporting is the book's strength - you're not likely to get a better explanation of where your food comes from....In an uncommonly good year for American food writing, this is a book that stands out." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Completely charming." (Nora Ephron)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Stephen Redding 02-07-09 Member Since 2008
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    "Great presentation of a moral dilemma"

    Pollan's examination of the cultural, moral and socioeconomic tradeoffs we make when eating food is a deep and exhaustive consideration of the consequences of seeming simple choices. By structuring the work around 4 meals, he presents four alternative relationships to nature and the world, and lays bare the personal consequences of each. I found that the detail was, at times unnecessarily fastidious, as when Pollan agonizes over the authenticity of hunting, but not killing, the wild boar in his hunter and gatherer meal, and then taking us through the process again, just so he can personally pull the trigger. I would have rather he had just lied, and took credit for the first kill.

    The mix of science, economics and gastronomy was what I would like the Food Network to really be about. The personal perspective of the book sometimes got in the way, but gave it a visceral feel that kept my interest.

    What did I learn from the book? That sorting out the food chains involved in what I eat daily is way too complicated to really address it in real life. I would have liked to see an epilogue that explained the way Pollan has worked it out. He hints at this at the end, but doesn't ever present a cogent agenda for how making responsible choices about food fits into the real world of budgets and schedules that we have developed since making the evolutionary choice to not spent most of our waking hours feeding ourselves.

    I learned how mushrooms are gathered and the physiology of corn. I learned more than I would ever really want to about the beef industry, and the ecology of grasses. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that will stick with me longer than the meal of boar and mushrooms Pollan serves to his friends at the end of the book.

    20 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 08-29-11
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 08-29-11 Member Since 2009

    Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A must read"

    I don't think most people welcome the knowledge contained in this selection. What's the expression?... more information than I wanted to know. But it's not more information than we need to know. The book is long. As a biologist and geek, it was not too long for me. While most of what I have listened to by Scott Brick has been fiction and I have not always appreciated him as a reader, I believe he was perfect for this book. My only concern is that because of its length, some readers might be turned off and this is not a subject that should be turned off or not listened and paid attention to.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    chris Kelowna, BC, Canada 07-16-07
    chris Kelowna, BC, Canada 07-16-07 Member Since 2003
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    "Engrossing and enlightening"

    When the book opened, I thought it was going to become some PETA fueled anti-meat rant, and then I thought it was going to become some anti-GM food hippy organic food rant, but I was wrong on both counts. It touches those subjects and many more. In fact, the book moves seamlessly between many subjects.

    The author loves meat, and food, but he wants to know exactly where it comes from. He starts by homing in on corn, which is by far the most important component of our diet, being in almost everything we eat in one form or another (interesting, eh?). He then looks closer: how did corn come to dominate our diet, and why do farmers get paid less for their corn than it costs to grow it, and what is the real cost of all that cheap corn?

    He then looks at the organic movement, and shows that organic is far from the pastoral ideal we imagine it to be. It is better than over-tilled and fertilized fields and manure filled feedlots, at least. I know a lot of farmers and I have seen some of this first-hand.

    Then the author focuses on a truly sustainable farm, and the genius farmers who not only make it work, but make it work well. They can also tell you precisely why it works.

    And that's only the first half of the book. The author keeps moving, filling the pages with startling facts and truly excellent writing. The author is apparently a journalist, and it shows in his extensive research and persuasive arguments.

    I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. It helps, I suppose, that I was receptive to it. Still, I couldn't put it down, and I can recommend it to anyone who eats.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 05-05-06
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 05-05-06 Member Since 2000

    On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through

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    "Somewhat preachy, almost always fascinating"

    Well-written, well-researched, and full of interesting facts and stories about our food supply, I had two issues that bugged me about this book that held me back from unreserved praise, though other listeners may feel differently. First, and probably less important, is that the narrator over EMOTES every OTHER word making DRAMATIC use of pauses and SUCH to the point of annoyance, though this only started to bother me after a few hours. Secondly, though the book feels evenhanded at first, as it goes on, there are more and more digressions against tampering with nature, and the evil people (grain companies, government policy people) who back the bad guy of the book -- corn. While it does not overwhelm the audiobook, it does start to grate a bit, especially as the author regularly misuses economic arguments, and ignores perspectives other than those of the wealthy westerner to whom the tenfold increase in food production per acre is a problem, not a benefit. That said, however, the issues are discussed in a really interesting manner, with well-told stories (following the history of an ear of corn, tracing the debate about organic food standards through the hippies who started it, working at a farm, hunting a boar), and based on what we learn about the industrialized food supply, the biases he brings to the table, as it were, are both understandable and relatively subdued. It may or may not transform the way you think about food, but it will certainly raise questions, while keeping you surprisingly entertained.

    29 of 32 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lily St. Augustine, FL, USA 11-02-08
    Lily St. Augustine, FL, USA 11-02-08 Member Since 2003
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    "Great book; didn't love the reading"

    While raving to a friend about Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", she recommended this book, so it was my next purchase. Early on I began to wonder if ANYTHING was really healthy and ethical to eat, unless you can produce all your own food! But it turned out to have some fascinating and valuable information about the way our food is grown, processed and transported, so it was well worth reading.

    As for the narration... I've listened to several other books narrated by Scott Brick, and he's never been a favorite, but this was just baaaaddd. This book did NOT require a dramatic reading, but that's what it got! And I wish someone would give narrators a list of uncommon words in advance so he or she can be prepared! Mr. Brick really butchered a few words, and based on sentence context, I think he may have mis-read a few words altogether! I kept telling myself it's not a big deal - I got the point - but it's just so distracting!

    36 of 40 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kalendy Brooklyn, NY, USA 01-13-10
    Kalendy Brooklyn, NY, USA 01-13-10 Member Since 2006
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    "simply perfect"

    Michael Pollen has asked and documented questions that I believe most Americans ask themselves every day "What should I eat."
    He takes us through more than one food chain, and how each one not only affects the land that is used, but how it affects us, the consumers.

    Its great to listen to writer who has documented this issue though his own personal experience. Pollan is not preaching nor is he telling his readers what they should eat; instead, Pollan allows the readers to make their own decisions about the food that's on their plate.
    Scott Brick was also the perfect narrator for this book; his voice has really brought the book to life. Anyone who is interested in the food that goes on our plate really should purchase and listen to this book.


    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nicholas UMATILLA, FL, United States 04-07-13
    Nicholas UMATILLA, FL, United States 04-07-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Girlfriend forced me to listen. Love her for it."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    This is non-fiction at its best. Not only is the entire book a huge eye-opener concerning our nation's food production, but Pollan's style is engaging and fluid. I fought "reading" this for about a month--I'd much rather leave my head in the sand when it comes to the scary stuff in/about our food, and I was expecting Pollan's solution to be some ridiculously extreme change in diet. Turns out, he simply shed light on some pretty serious issues and recommends that we simply be intelligent and well informed about our what we eat and where it comes from.


    Any additional comments?

    Great performance for a great piece of journalism.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. San Francisco, CA, United States 12-15-10
    M. San Francisco, CA, United States 12-15-10 Member Since 2007
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    "Five Star Substance - One Star Narration"

    Add this to the long list of "Bricked" books appearing on Audible. Scott Brick's narrative style is a distraction from the actual substance of the book. I enjoyed the substance of the book, but had a very difficult time reaching it through the unnecessarily dramatic reading. Mr. Brick has narrated many other books I would like to listen to, and I have suffered through a couple of others, but will not make the mistake of purchasing another book read by him.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Vinicius Hammond, LA, United States 07-30-09
    Vinicius Hammond, LA, United States 07-30-09 Member Since 2009
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    "Good overview of the food we eat"

    Mr. Pollan made an in-depth, sometimes knee-high, journey to try to make sense of the mosaic of food alternative claims available to the public these days. I respect his hands-on approach: anyone that criticizes a farmer should put themselves in their perspective and even try to make a living out of it first. In spite of innacuracies in some of his assumptions, I was pleased with Mr. Pollan's attempt to discuss the different food production systems. I agree that long-standing cheap food policies have brought us near a breaking point. Economics are contributing to the extermination of most small/family conventional farmers, while most alternative food production are too expensive and can only survive as niche markets for affluent populations that can afford the produce.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
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    Cassi Cleveland, TN, USA 05-29-08
    Cassi Cleveland, TN, USA 05-29-08
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    "It will change how you eat"

    Excellent, excellent book. Well-researched content, riveting to listen to ... and it definitely has made me change my food habits, from what I choose and where I buy it. The first two main sections were most interesting to me - the story of the pervasiveness of corn and corn-derived products in the American diet (along with the reasons behind it), and also the unravelling of the organic movement. Whether you eat hamburgers and Twinkies, or are a raw-food gourmet, this book provides profound information about what shapes our eating habits. Required reading for anyone who eats!

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
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