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March 10, 2011

Book review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Filed under: Misc — Tags: — Marcus @ 2:00 am

The omnivores dilemma is a very thought provoking book, it doesn’t contain any sensationalized yelling about how everything (and everybody) is wrong. The author doesn’t even really try and sway you to his beliefs about what we should and should not eat, he does not promote a specific diet over another, he lets his research and pure facts speak for him (There are 19 pages of just his sources for his facts).

I think the best way to into what the book is about is to present a paragraph from the back of the book:

Today, buffeted by one food fad after another, America is suffering from what can only be described as a national eating disorder. Will it be fast food tonight, or something organic? Or perhaps something we grew ourselves? … The Omnivore’s Dilemma is changing the way Americans think about the politics, perils, and pleasures of eating.

I personally don’t understand the diet fads that come about every year, one year you find out you are not supposed to eat lots of meat, the next year you find out breads are going to kill us all. All told Americans spend about $250 billion per year in diet related health costs. However (and this is my opinion), diets are simple, I don’t care how scientific or complicated or simple a diet is, it comes down to one simple equation calories consumed vs calories expended. If you consume more calories than you expend, you are going to gain weight, if you consume less, you will lose weight. The next factor to consider is your health, out of the calories you consume, how many of them are healthy? Don’t reach for the diet book you carry with you to see what is healthy. Just answer a simple question, would I recognize this food in its natural environment, or, can I pronounce the ingredients? If you can say yes to both, its probably a healthy food (and thus a non or barely processed food).

So then, if the answer as to what is healthy for us is such a simple question, why then is that not what we are eating? Marketing, because of the current growth rate of the US population, if people continue to eat exactly as they have in the past, then any companies providing food should expect about 2% growth per year, and for most business plans that is unacceptable.

An example from the book of a company trying to beat the growth curb was General Mills. General Mills started out as a simple grain mill, they quickly found out there was no real money to be made in raw materials like whole wheat flour since anyone could make that, so they turned to making enriched flour, and bleached flour, etc. In time they also found that market was to close to the raw materials to make any real money, so they turned instead to making more and more processed materials and cereals. General Mills found that dealing in raw or barely processed foods was a losers game from a marketing standpoint.

It is because of this that processed foods are marketed so heavily towards us as consumers, it is hard to differentiate between two companies selling lettuce (other than the quality of the lettuce), but when something is highly processed and sold in a box, they can market their idea’s and pretty design over the actual nutritional value of the food.

In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, the author follows four meals that represent the four main ways food gets to our table and he explains the health, financial, and political components that are associated at all the levels from the farmers growing the corn used to make high fructose corn syrup and ethanol, to the feedlots mass growing sickly cattle, to the small organic farm that can barely keep in business, not because they can’t compete in the market, but because they don’t fit the government models for business that were legislated by politicians being influenced by large industrial corporations.

In high school when we used to have to give book reports, one of the components of a book report was we had to tell who we would recommend the book to, so as not to break what must be good form in a book report/review.

I would recommend this book to anyone who eats food.

Facebook comments:


  1. Think general mills can barely make a profit? There’s a reason why we in the grocery industry run on razor thin profit margins.

    Comment by Paul — March 10, 2011 @ 6:01 am

  2. General Mills is making all kinds of money now, the point in the book was that when they were just making raw ingredients such as plain flour, they were barely breaking even because anyone could compete fairly easily in that market. It wasn’t until they moved to doing more and more processing of the food that they got into the big money. Now people will buy Cereal from General Mills because of the pretty labels and the marketing, the book spent some time talking about how companies want us to eat more and more processed foods, because the more processed a food is, the more money there is for the company doing the processing.

    Comment by Marcus — March 10, 2011 @ 6:19 am

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