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The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

August 19, 2009

A couple of nights ago I finally finished the Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book by Michael Pollan that I had borrowed from Erik and started way back in late June. But travel schedules and bike training managed to prevent me from finishing the book in a timely manner.

The book is complicated and intense to sum up in just one blog post, so I’ll probably have a handful of posts related to the book in the next week or so. For those of you who have never heard of it it, here’s the review from Publisher’s Weekly, courtesy of

Pollan (The Botany of Desire) examines what he calls “our national eating disorder” (the Atkins craze, the precipitous rise in obesity) in this remarkably clearheaded book. It’s a fascinating journey up and down the food chain, one that might change the way you read the label on a frozen dinner, dig into a steak or decide whether to buy organic eggs. You’ll certainly never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again.Pollan approaches his mission not as an activist but as a naturalist: “The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world.” All food, he points out, originates with plants, animals and fungi. “[E]ven the deathless Twinkie is constructed out of… well, precisely what I don’t know offhand, but ultimately some sort of formerly living creature, i.e., a species. We haven’t yet begun to synthesize our foods from petroleum, at least not directly.”Pollan’s narrative strategy is simple: he traces four meals back to their ur-species. He starts with a McDonald’s lunch, which he and his family gobble up in their car. Surprise: the origin of this meal is a cornfield in Iowa. Corn feeds the steer that turns into the burgers, becomes the oil that cooks the fries and the syrup that sweetens the shakes and the sodas, and makes up 13 of the 38 ingredients (yikes) in the Chicken McNuggets.Indeed, one of the many eye-openers in the book is the prevalence of corn in the American diet; of the 45,000 items in a supermarket, more than a quarter contain corn. Pollan meditates on the freakishly protean nature of the corn plant and looks at how the food industry has exploited it, to the detriment of everyone from farmers to fat-and-getting-fatter Americans. Besides Stephen King, few other writers have made a corn field seem so sinister.Later, Pollan prepares a dinner with items from Whole Foods, investigating the flaws in the world of “big organic”; cooks a meal with ingredients from a small, utopian Virginia farm; and assembles a feast from things he’s foraged and hunted.This may sound earnest, but Pollan isn’t preachy: he’s too thoughtful a writer, and too dogged a researcher, to let ideology take over. He’s also funny and adventurous. He bounces around on an old International Harvester tractor, gets down on his belly to examine a pasture from a cow’s-eye view, shoots a wild pig and otherwise throws himself into the making of his meals. I’m not convinced I’d want to go hunting with Pollan, but I’m sure I’d enjoy having dinner with him. Just as long as we could eat at a table, not in a Toyota. (Apr.)Pamela Kaufman is executive editor at Food & Wine magazine.

– Reviewed by Pamela Kaufman

Lately I’ve been having my own dilemma with food. I’ve decided it’s in the best interest of my bank account and my waist line if I start (again) bringing my lunch to work instead of relying on the cafeteria in my building. But I have to say, the thought of eating yet another turkey sandwich makes me want to vomit (sorry). I have actually thrown out sandwiches because I couldn’t bring myself to eating them anymore. But what else can I bring?

Some have suggested leftovers, but I don’t typically make large scale dinners that provide leftovers. Most of my dinners are raviolis and frozen chicken, just enough to feed myself. Sometimes I do frozen dinners or deli chickens from the grocery store. Toss in a vegetable and a dessert and I’m done.

I get tired of eating the same things over and over again, so I wanted to inquire to you, my wonderful readers, about what the heck you feed yourself with everyday? What do you make that you don’t get sick of? Making food is certainly complicated, as proven by Michael Pollan, but choosing and making food is also complicated! I need a refresher course in how to eat. Any thoughts? Thanks.

  1. August 19, 2009 12:39 PM

    The sandwich is one of the easiest options, though I try to go kind of gourmet sometimes, switching up the type of bread and extra ingredients – including veggies like avocados and peppers.

    It’s quick and easy to make up some pasta to take to work and reheat, most places have microwaves. This goes for most any leftovers, actually. If you make more food than you can eat for dinner, why not bring it to work the next day?

    If you keep the dressing and certain ingredient separate, you can throw together a pretty gourmet salad at work, adding things like nuts and fruits and various veggies can keep this from getting dull.

    You can also bring hummus with veggies and pita as a nice light lunch.

    My attitude is that if I can get it to work and heat it up, I can eat whatever I want. Hopefully some of these ideas will work (I am not working with the dietary constraints you are) and you won’t be gagging on plain ol’ turkey sandwiches everyday.

  2. August 19, 2009 1:21 PM

    I think that examining how create meals may help. Are you going for the quick meal or taking time to enjoy the process of preparing and eating that meal? The sort of meals you might find at a nice restaurant in Manhattan take time to prepare, to pick the right ingredients, etc. This is why they are almost never boring.

  3. Lizzie permalink
    August 20, 2009 12:19 AM

    There’s a book called Food Matters by Mark Bittman. It’s essentially a practical guide on how to eat according to the arguments of Omnivore’s Dilemma and Pollan’s other book, In Defense of Food. It’s interesting, and even better, includes a lot of basic recipes to get a beginning food reformer over the hump of not knowing what to cook. Highly recommended!

    My favorite guideline from Pollan and Bittman, though, will always be avoid food that comes in boxes. No good lives there.

  4. August 21, 2009 12:57 PM

    I am all about the so called “superfoods”: dark leafy greens, beans, sweet potatoes, etc.

    Here are some of the things I make at home ALL the time and love…

    Sweet Potatoes: Keep the skin on and cut into long strips like steak fries. Toss with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, minced garlic, and fresh chopped rosemary. Roast at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes, turning them over often. Serve with room temperature goat cheese to dip in. So tasty. Or if you want something quick, peel and chunk sweet potatoes, boil until soft, and mash with a couple ounces of goat cheese. That’s it.

    Beans: Rise a couple cans of black beans and set aside. Chop and sautee 1 large yellow or white onion, a red or green bell pepper, salt/pepper, and lots of garlic until onions soften and turn translucent (5-8 minutes). Add I cup black beans and mash with fork. Add the rest of the beans, enough water to cover the beans, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, a small can of diced green chilies and a good sprinking of cumin. Let simmer and stir occasionally until water is almost gone. Add lots more cumin. Serve when water is all gone and beans are creamy.

    Tomatoes: : In late summer or early fall, look for heirloom tomatoes at your local farmers market or grocery store. Arrange tomato slices and mozzerella cheese slices (or goat cheese) on a plate and drizzle with olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, and fresh basil. You can also drizzle some good balsamic vinegar on top if you like as well.

    Salmon: Grainy mustard, dill, sprinkle of lemon juice on top of a filet, bake and eat. So easy. Or marinate in a simple mix of soy sauce and brown sugar.

    I have so many more recipes up my sleeve. If you want ideas, let me know 🙂

    • August 21, 2009 1:29 PM

      Mari: Thanks so much for the ideas and recipes. They look great! I actually am not a huge fan of sweet potatoes (except when they come with brown sugar and marshmallows!), but the other ones look great. 🙂 Thanks!

  5. August 24, 2009 12:05 PM

    I bring my lunch everyday, I don’t have a fridge at work or a microwave, so everything has to be already prepared. I do sandwiches, but I vary the kind: turkey on a small bagel, chicken and lettuce in a “roll-up,” peanut butter on white bread, swiss cheese on rye. I also do mini-pitas and hummus, which is a nice break. I’m also addicted to Wee Brie, little wedges of brie, and I bring crackers to spread it on. I vary my “sides,” too: individual applesauce or yogurt; pretzels, popcorn, Sun Chips. For dessert, animal crackers, Stella D’Oro almond toast, mini chocolate mint rice cakes, etc. I will do a salad sometimes; put the lettuce in a container and separate baggies for sliced almonds, mushrooms, olives, blue cheese sprinkles and a viniagrette, then I mix it at work. I also do cottage cheese with Triscuits, cut-up honeydew melon, a banana. And I also keep a stash of sort-of lunch items at work: pre-packaged peanut butter and crackers, NutriGrain or granola bars. I also do allow myself to buy lunch about once every two or three weeks, just to break the monotony–but I know every place within walking distance where I can get lunch for under $15 (I’m in a high tourist area and everything is expensive). Basically, whenever I’m at the grocery store, I’m always on the lookout for something that might work for lunch. I also invested in little Glad container in various sizes, Ziploc lunch bags and other plastic items, which help in packing lunch quicker and easier. It’s about switching things up when you get bored with your current lunch, and putting your favorites on a rotation. Hope that helps!

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