Thursday, July 19, 2007

I (Mostly) Love Michael Pollan

After way too long a wait, I'm now in the middle of reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I read and liked Botany of Desire and his many articles in the Sunday NY Times Magazine. In virtually all his writing, I find one tiny little nugget that I strongly disagree with. I've already found it in Omnivore's Dilemma.

Let me start by reminding anyone reading this that my blog actually started as a wonkish food policy blog before I realized that my heart lay in a true food blog. So this little nugget is very little. And very particular. And very petty. See, but I recognize AND acknowledge this! It's a step in the right direction, no?

In discussing the stages of grass's domination of human food supply and the planet, Pollan refers to what he says is "usually called" the invention of agriculture. He quite rightly sees that as a pretty darn smug way of looking at it. The problem I have is that people who actually study that phenomenon (myself included) virtually never call it an invention. At most, discovery might slip. But generally, it is referred to as "origins of food production" or "the transition to food production". Researchers recognize that there were always (at least) two species involved and changing, that it was a process, not an immediate change, etc.

I realize that almost nobody else cares about a three-word phrase out of a whole book. It's my field, though, and I get irked when people writing about it for the popular press so badly misrepresent how the phenomenon is viewed within the field.

And that's the end of my rant.

Well, the end of my rant about the invention of agriculture, anyway. There is so much more to rant about in Pollan's work. Again, this is my field, so he isn't saying much I haven't heard before. That said, he puts information together in a clear, connected style that makes his reader sit up and take notice. He makes me glad, all over again, that I haven't eaten poultry or red meat in over twenty years. He reinforces my conviction that I won't eat them for another twenty unless I'm raising the animals myself, and maybe not even then.

Last night, I had to think back to the meal I had made and try to figure out how much corn and corn by-products were in it. Not many, truthfully, since we had one processed component with a big salad followed by a rhubarb/blueberry crisp. The salad dressing I made definitely had at least a little corn in it somewhere. I'm sure the packaged bread crumbs that went into the crisp topping had corn in them. The butter was no doubt from corn-fed cows. The sugar was straight cane.

My lack of a camera is starting to get to me. I really like sharing pictures of what we're eating. I'll have to watch more carefully when Husband shows me (for the third time) how I can take still photos with our digital video camera.

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