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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

Critic Reviews

  • 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)

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  • Overall

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.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • chris
  • Kelowna, BC, Canada
  • 07-16-07

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.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lily
  • St. Augustine, FL, USA
  • 11-02-08

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!

56 of 63 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

38 of 43 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Vinicius
  • Hammond, LA, United States
  • 07-30-09

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

You owe yourself to listen to this book

This book is big, and the reason it's big is because there's a lot to say about this subject. You may decide to not change anything in your habits, but at least you'll be making a conscious decision. This book talks about how a lot of other people make decisions for us on what we eat in a journalistic way that is not radical. Tells it like it is, backed up with research. I thank the writer for getting this book out there and the reader/producers for making it possible for me to get its contents during my commute.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Robert
  • Yamhill, OR, United States
  • 08-29-11

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.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great for anyone. Should be required in school.

This is a fascinating soup to nuts description of the food chain particularly in America. It felt like Mr. Pollan did a great job of presenting all sides of many questions in a way that leaves the reader free to make the best of some rather difficult choices. Right now, many people don't even realize there ARE choices. One great point of this book is that we don't really know what we are putting in ourselves. Scott Brick wasn't as hammy as usual since it was non-fiction.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


this is one fantastic book. do yourself, your family, loved ones, anyone who EATS FOOD!! a favor and give, discuss, live this book. my favorite gift to give. my health has improved dramatically by taking his lessons to heart.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

The Omnivore's Dilemma

If you read only ONE book this year, make it this one! Simply put, The Omnivore's Dilemma is a total eye-opener! Of course I knew that most of the food on the market was laced with pesticides, but had no idea to what extent we are being duped.

Michael Pollan presents this work as extremely well researched and written. I will absolutely read his other books.

And, I must say that I enjoyed the voice of the narrator, Scott Brick. He's one of the best.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful