Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I just finished reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. [If you haven’t already read this book -- which you probably have, as it seems I am the last person to have done so -- you should run and get yourself a copy.]

It is the perfect book to read in the week before Thanksgiving.

If not the perfect book to read while on a flight home from Paris.

Let me explain.

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” explores the environmental and moral implications of various food choices. It manages to do so in a an existential way that had me questioning the very meaning of what it is to be human. This is not an exaggeration. This book is no mere indictment of industrial food; it is instead a surprisingly spiritual exploration of what it means to nourish oneself.

I learned from “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” that to be fully conscious of how and where our food was grown, fully aware of the true costs of putting it on our tables, and fully “in the moment” when we eat it, is to be fully thankful for it.

An excellent lesson to have learned in the week before Thanksgiving.

Which brings me to my flight home from Paris yesterday.

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, more than 30,000 feet above the earth, in a cramped, darkened economy-class cabin, I turned the pages of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I felt a certain kinship in those moments with the industrial chicken, and a certain longing to be the pastured cow. But, more than anything, as I read Michael Pollan’s beautiful treatise on connectedness to the earth, to food, and to fellow humans, I felt suddenly so lost, hungry, and alone.

And then, as if on cue, the stewardess delivered a tray full of industrial glop as my “meal,” including a warmed chicken sandwich wrapped in cellophane, stamped with an expiration date well into 2012. I couldn’t recognize anything she put in front of me as “food.” I couldn’t trace it from farm to table (or tray, as the case may have been). I couldn’t feel a sense of communion with the soil, the chicken, or even my fellow passengers.

This was not what it is to be human, or to nourish oneself.

And yet, I was hungry, so I ate it.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, indeed.

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