Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reading Notes: Omnivore's Dilemma, pp. 123-207

Book group is meeting on Thursday, and I still have half of Omnivore’s Dilemma to read. I had a few opportunities to read over the weekend. On Saturday, I read at Dunn Brothers for almost an hour, trying desperately to drown out the college kids making idle, loud chit-chat. This afternoon I squeezed in another hour while John watched Tiger Woods win the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

In the second section—grass—Pollan visits Polyface Farm, where Joel Salatin, a grass farmer (so-called because grass is the foundation of all agriculture on his farm) raises chickens, cows, turkeys, eggs, rabbits, pigs, and vegetables. Pollan examines the early organic movement, which promised alternative modes of production, distribution, and consumption, and introduces organic gardening forefathers, J.I. Rodale and Sir Albert Howard before turning his attention to Big Organic. This $11 billion industry embraces practices that call to question whether industrial organic isn’t a contradiction of terms if the food production is on a large scale or distribution involves traveling great distances (e.g., flying produce to the U.S. from South America).

Pollan eats his second of four meals, one that he prepares from his Whole Foods purchases, a store that Pollan refers to as promoting “supermarket pastoral,” using slick packaging to provide a story for the food items it sells. Pollan traces each food item in the meal to its source—greens (Earthbound Farms), vegetables, free-range chicken (Petaluma Poultry), and asparagus (from Argentina), with ice cream (Stoneybrook Farms) and blackberries for dessert. Most of his meal tasted good, though the asparagus (at $6 a bunch) was best described as tasting like cardboard.

Not surprising, Pollan revels that his industrial organic meal left a deep footprint. The lot of workers on industrial organic farms is not appreciably different from those on nonorganic factory farms. The chickens lived only marginally better lives than their conventional counterparts. A CAFO is a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). And, industrial organic farming is “drenched in fossil fuel,” often burning more diesel than their conventional counterparts.

Up next: animals on the grass farm

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