Tuesday, April 08, 2008

catching up

When I left off here, I was fiercely determined to finish The Omnivore’s Dilemma before my book group met. I wish that I could have continued to write my impressions as I was reading, but with only four days to read two hundred pages—did I mention I am a s-l-o-w reader?—I gave myself over to the book. I’m pleased to say that I came within thirty pages of finishing. Book group met, six members strong, and we had a very good discussion—each of us equally horrified where appropriate, motivated to make the best food choices for ourselves and our families, and wowed by Pollan’s talent.

Where was I, then?

In the last half of the second section, Pollan continues writing about the animals on Joe Salatin’s farm, specifically about the rich symbiosis shared between the cows and the chickens. The cows produce manure. Three or four days later, the chickens eat fat, protein-rich grubs out of the cow manure, which not only produces rich and tasty eggs, but sanitizes the pasture so Salatin doesn’t need to use toxic dewormers or antibiotics on his cattle. I can’t get over how cool that is. Why can’t more farmers do this?

Pollan also details chicken slaughter, which Salatin is allowed to conduct on his farm. He visits Bev Eggleston, who markets Polyface meat and eggs, and he tags along with Joel’s brother, Art, as he delivers Polyface items to local restaurants that endorse farm-to-table menus.
In the spirit of eating locally, the third of four meals is eaten in Charlottesville, before Pollan’s return to California. Pollan roasts chickens, which he helped slaughter, as well as corn, picked from Salatin’s hoop house. Pollan also prepares a soufflé from Salatin’s eggs and serves local wine, a Virginia-state viognier.

The book’s final section—the forest—was my favorite. Pollan examines the ethics of eating animals juxtaposed against a vegetarian diet. He also forages for mushrooms (morels), hunts wild boar, and harvests salt. For his fourth meal, Pollan establishes the following rules:
1. Everything on the menu must have been hunted, gathered, or grown by me.

2. The menu should feature at least one representative of each edible kingdom: animal, vegetable, and fungus, as well as an edible mineral (the salt).

3. Everything served must be in season and fresh. The meal would reflect not only the places that supplied its ingredients, but a particular moment in time.

4. No money may be spent on the meal, though already purchased items in the pantry could be deployed as needed.

5. The guest list is limited to those people who helped me in my foraging and their significant others. . . . There would be ten of us in all.

6. I would cook the meal myself.
Here is his menu:
Fava Bean Toasts and Sonoma Boar
Egg Fettuccine with Power Fire Morels
Braised Leg and Grilled Loin of Wild Sonoma Pig

Wild East Bay Yeast Levain
Very Local Garden Salad

Fulton Street Bing Cherry Galette

Claremont Canyon Chamomile Tisane
2003 Angelo Garro Petite Syrah
Ambitious and a little (intentionally) pretentious. If you’d like to know the meal's outcome, I’d strongly suggest you read this book. It’s worth it for Pollan’s richly detailed writing.

Pollan concludes that without the fast food we wouldn't be able to appreciate the slow food fully, but ultimately argues that it would be nice to get to a point where food is food. He would like to enjoy food for food's sake and leave the politics out of the meal. Amen.

Thumbing through the book, trying to refresh my memory, I’ve read random, impeccably constructed sentences that remind me how much I enjoyed reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I know I’ll read it again, but in the meantime I’m passing along the book to my sister because I know she’ll appreciate it and we’ll have a good conversation later. I love Michael Pollan's dense narrative style, which pretty perfectly blends factual information with his personal experience. I have added some of his backlist to my TBR list—The Botany of Desire (another book that weaves science with anecdotes to explore the relationship between people and plants) and A Place of My Own (in which Pollan explores home construction through history and personal experience). And, I'd like to read the provocatively titled In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, his continuing discussion about what we eat.

The next selection for our book group is Joshua Ferris’s critically acclaimed Then We Came to the End, an office dramedy described as such by Publishers Weekly:
This wickedly funny, big-hearted novel about life in the office signals the arrival of a gloriously talented new writer. The characters in Then We Came to the End cope with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, secret romance, elaborate pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks. By day they compete for the best office furniture left behind and try to make sense of the mysterious pro-bono ad campaign that is their only remaining "work."
Substitute "architecture magazine group" for the protagonist's "ad agency" and "gut-wrenchingly stressful" with "wickedly funny," and Ferris's little novel strikes too close to home. Which may explain why I haven't started it yet. This book has been on my radar since I received an insider tip before it was published, but the glowing reviews for the hardcover, the nomination for a National Book Award, and making it to the semi-final round of the '08 Tournament of Books certainly boosted TWCTTE up my TBR list.

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