Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The fat reader's dilemma

I'm currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. I'm not all that far into the book, and I'm having a difficult time wanting to continue. His style isn't bad, and he tries pretty hard to bring us some facts, but I'm really, really growing tired of him harping on the OMGOBESITY "epidemic". He has bought the b.s. that we all eat too much, and THAT is why we are fat.

I want to finish this book, partly because I am interested in the rest of the material, but I have two problems:
1. It's just aggravating to read all of the fatphobic crap he's put into the book.

2. If he's regurgitating the "facts" he sucked directly from the teat of big pharma and the CDC (who's in the pocket of big pharma), then how can I trust the rest of what he's saying? How do I know he checked his other facts?

I am going to push onward, because I dislike leaving a book half-read, and because so many people are gushing about it, but I'm doing so in the face of being repelled, and not able to take the author's claims seriously.

Oh, and one other thing that I almost forgot: Does Eric Schlosser know that someone has plagiarized his book? While this book has a lot of details about corn processing and things like that, Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" did pretty much the same thing, did it better, and only gave a small amount of lip service to the o****** (I think it's a foul word) "epidemic". The Omnivore's Dilemma bitches about fat people in every chapter.

I agree with the ideas behind this book--that we need to return to sustainable agriculture and stop running farms like factories. Absolutely, I believe this. There are a lot of reasons that factory farming and the monoculture farming of corn (which requires a lot of petrochemicals to fertilize the soil, instead of crop rotation which does it naturally) are bad. We can say these things, though, without dragging fat people into the fray and beating them up. E. coli, toxic waste, and drug-resistant bacteria are all reasons besides animal welfare to stop the feedlot insanity. Unsustainability of using petrochemicals to fertilize corn and the glut of corn (which requires armies of "food scientists" to find a use for) are good reasons to return to crop rotation and diversification--and that's aside from the dwindling culture of the traditional American farmer.

But I suppose the author feels the only way to get people to listen is to latch onto the currently fashionable hype of EW FAT IS GROSS.

I'll write more after finishing the book (if I can manage to do so). I also have a review coming up of a wonderful book I read last month, but it's such a heavy topic that I want to be careful and do it right.


Harpy said...

A point to make to people who claim HFCS and hormones in meat and dairy and all that is making us faaaaaaaaat is that in Australia we have the same rates of fat people, yet no HFCS, beef and lamb is grass-fed free-range by default (pork isn't but the industry is cottoning on to free-range, slowly; poultry's somewhat better), and the poultry and dairy industries are proud of the fact that they don't give their animals hormones or routine antibiotics. So what's the "evil" stuff in food that's making Australians fat?

I agree that there are much better reasons to question mass farming practices than OMG FAT. (Like why the hell are we growing rice in Australia, the driest (inhabited) place on the planet, and using up gigalitres of precious water doing that?)

Nancy Lebovitz said...

You might like The Gospel of Food--it debunks various American weirdnesses about food, including the terror of getting fat.

I mostly liked _The Omnivore's Dilemna_, but Pollan doesn't even look at what the transition to all organic small farms would be, or what it would do to the price of food. It might be feasible, but it spooks me that he doesn't seem to notice that most people might not be able to afford it, and that would matter.

Vive42 said...


Thorny said...

Oy, I had the same problem with that book. I never did make it more than part-way through. I just couldn't take the endless finger-wagging and ZOMG!! FAAAAAAAAATTTT!!! hysteria, and at that point I just internalized it all.

I might have continued reading it, and tried to change the entire way my family ate based on what it had to say, actually, except that we were totally broke at the time, and there was no way we could afford to spend any more on food than we already were.

I wound up putting the book down out of sheer hopelessness.

Which, I suppose, is a roundabout way of saying, "I totally agree with you, that he's all ZOMGFATISBAD, plus has very little to offer for those of us who can't afford to only shop for organic, sustainably grown/raised foods."

I was pretty disappointed, too - I'd waited for over a year for it to come available through the library, even.

Linda said...

That's really disappointing to hear, as I really liked his book The Botany of Desire.