walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Michael Pollan, _The Omnivore's Dilemma_

I'll make this quick:

(a) I'm fascinated by the local foods movement, particularly Joel Salatin.
(b) I don't like Michael Pollan, based on previous unsuccessful attempts to read _Botany of Desire_.

I read this book primarily because I felt it was important that I figure out _why_ I don't like Michael Pollan.

Note: for purposes of book reviews, if I say I don't like an author, it's shorthand for, I don't like that author's authorial voice. They may be a fine person in person; I don't care for the way I perceive them in print.

So, did I find out? Yup.

Michael Pollan does a fabulous job telling a story of going out to get answers to questions, learn things, have new experiences. This aspect of Pollan I like. A lot -- I mean, this is the kind of thing I like. That's why this was such a difficult mystery. I _should_ like this guy's work. But I don't, because. . .

He's got just about the worst kind of analysis out there. Throw the book against the wall, buttonhole him in public and dress him down, defame him at every opportunity bad analysis. He gets all abstract and hortatory about stuff, and then in the next paragraph takes it all back. He gives completely specious arguments. And he presents as "everyone" or "human" (at least he doesn't say "Mankind" -- I would have stopped if he had done that) something that is either specific to him, his group, or a particularly obnoxious slice of our culture -- apparently totally unaware that other people think differently (like, he doesn't seem to really believe there are human people out there who think that they aren't not-animal or that animals aren't people or something like that). It'd be one thing if this were in passing, but it's not. It's quite central to his whole theme that, for example, people have culture and can compare What's Good to Eat and, for example, Rats do not/cannot.

This from the guy who didn't think to sample the probable-chanterelle and see what happened.


The themes that metastasized the local foods movement are mostly here, altho they are mostly vestigial. It seems clear, from a variety of Twinkie remarks, that one of the inspirations for _Twinkie, Deconstructed_ might well have been this book (the author of whom may even have mentioned this book, but I do not currently recall). Pollan is so focused on an existential angst -- oh, geez, what should we eat? -- that he gives short shrift to things like the probable global warming/Peak Oil impact on cost savings by shipping everything hither and yon. There is a lot of information buried in this book. As long as you stick to the detailed descriptions of what he researched, and stick your fingers firmly in your ears and go "I can't hear you nyah nyah nyah" when he wanders off into the rhetorical puckerbrush, you could probably get something out of this book.

Can't say that I recommend you bother, but at least it's out in paperback now. At least I can now articulate what pisses me off about him.

Oh, and another thing. Get this -- he says that if we all became vegetarian, we'd have to plant more ground and it would be damaging since grass-fed beef are somehow the best, oh, never mind. I mean, come on. I get there is land that is appropriately used for pasture (or timber, or something other than cultivated plots or fields). I'll even grant that horticulture and agriculture in general work best in conjunction with animals (using the term to include fish, birds, etc.). But it's a _massive_ leap to go from those observations to thinking we should be eating animal flesh, especially in any significant quantity. Wool and other animal fibers? Milk? Eggs? Blood? Hey, not my thing, but:


I mean, your life can completely revolve around your grazing animals and _still_ not involve eating much animal flesh.

I realize this makes me sound like a crazy vegan/vegetarian/animal rights person, and certainly I like and am sympathetic to their point of view altho I do not choose to live my life in that way. But as amusing and appealing as Salatin is, dude is a nutjob -- way too deep a focus on animal products. And Pollan, based on his meal descriptions, a lot like him. I know I say this while heading far out into the beans (I made Hoppin' John Fritters last night. Yum.), but I would have said it even at my meat-eatingest (which, to be honest, wasn't particularly meaty).

Enough. I can drop this. Maybe I'll read _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_ next.

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