Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Dilemma

I recently finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollen, and I need to write about it because I didn't want to return it until I posted here and it is now (very) overdue. That's the story of my life...

Anyway, it is an enlightening and interesting read about "the natural history of four meals". This might not sound like a particularly exciting topic, but it is. In the book, Pollen discusses the dilemma that us omnivores are faced with when we walk into the market: we are bombarded with food choices that can not only be overwhelming, but that are also really, really unhealthy for us.

A rather large portion of the book is dedicated to corn - a grain that is found in nearly 30% of everything in the grocery store: from the wax that makes a cucumber attractive and shiny, to the soda that contains high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is an extremely unhealthy sweetener that is found in too many products these days (it's hiding in many juices, yogurts, breakfast cereals and even ketchup).

Pollen also spends a considerable amount of time discussing the meat industry today and the problems that are lurking on many farms and slaughter houses. One of the major issues being that the majority of cattle are currently fed a diet mainly of corn- something that their stomachs were not intended to digest. One veterinarian that Pollen interviewed commented on the fact that most cows are slaughtered before they have been at a feedlot for 150 days, which is actually good, because the diet they are fed would destroy their livers in around that same time span.

I was also surprised to learn that mad cow disease is a result of cattle being fed parts from already slaughtered cattle. Pollen discovered that the even though the FDA has banned this practice because of the illnesses it caused, they have made an exception for blood products and fat.

So I discovered many interesting things, even more than I mentioned here, but the quote that I've been thinking the most about is on page 136: " who get the message that consumers care only about price will themselves care only about yield".

I'm a bargain hunter by nature. I love saving money. I'm that person who gets in your way in the aisle because I am frantically searching through my coupon book (which has a snap that conveniently hangs from the grocery cart). Sometimes I save so much money in stores I tell Jay to hurry and start driving because they may figure me out, they may realize that my coupon already expired or that I used more than one coupon on one product (by mistake of course). I've even been to a store where I saved more money than I spent. I always look for the lowest price, and so in the past I have sometimes chosen not to buy organic, cage free, or grass fed products because they are often more expensive. But I'm learning that it's not always about price. Sometimes the healthiest choice is the more expensive one. HFCS is cheap, but not worth the negative health effects.

I have definitely seen a change in my shopping habits since finishing the book. I haven't joined a local meat or vegetable co-op yet (although I've thought about it), but I've been choosing more organic foods and making sure not to purchase items with HFCS. I've been reading labels closely, and thinking more about where the food I am purchasing came from. I'm still saving money though. I'll always check my receipt twice to make sure they didn't overcharge (which they often do, so check your receipt!). I'm still cutting those coupons, reading those fliers, and comparing prices to make sure I get the best (healthiest) deal possible.


  1. Yay!!! I'm not alone!! I've not read this book - but now I am very interested : ) Jason and I are very anti HFCS and have been for about 2 years now. The U.S. is terrible at patrolling what goes into our food. A vast majority of the affordable food is loaded with HFCS leading many to purchase the "affordable" very unhealthy choices. Hence why a good deal of children our obese these days (that accompanied with lack of exercise) And don't get me going on obesity in the States. . .

    The U.K. is soooo good about no HFCS. I am going to miss fresh food! In fact some foods are illegal here (from what I have been told) i.e. Lucky Charms & Mountain Dew. The label everything so clearly and they strive for less preservatives. I'm quite keen on it.

    If we lived closer I would so go in on a freezer full of organic fed beef or a co-op garden!

    Sheesh I could go on forever!

    Thanks for sharing - I may have to read this book!!

  2. I just have to say I hate that cucumber wax! I started getting the ones wrapped in the cellophane just so I don't have to try to get the darn stuff off.
    That being said, I'd have to say I rest comfortably in between not caring about this and caring way too much. I pretty much feel like half of the stuff I put into my body is going to give me cancer someday anyway which feels a bit like an uphill battle. So I guess I'm somewhere in the -I'll make sure I don't eat too much bad stuff but I'm not reading every label I put in my cart either-zone.
    Last year when my cholesterol came back high is when I really started to look at some of the stuff I eat and just decided if I could make baby steps in the realm of better eating habits then I'd be doing my part. Taking carrots instead of cookies with me to work for a snack, buying a dark chocolate bar with almonds instead of just chocolate, those kids of things. I also just recently decided I want to add more avocados to my diet.
    Ultimately, I just don't know how to keep on top of all these good for you not good for you arguments. I'm not ready to take a cheat sheet with me just so I can go shopping, I don't much enjoy shopping to begin with, and I can barely remember to grab my list before I leave.
    So good for you, keeping up on all this stuff; especially since you're still managing to save $. I'm impressed!

  3. That books sounds like "Real Food" by Nina Plank, the one that inspired my food revolution. I too hate paying more at the grocery store, but I just figure it'll be less on healthcare in the long run and support for local family farms in the short run. Yah!

  4. This makes you think twice about how much you're willing to pay for your (or your child's) health. I'm up for it, I'm going to head to the library to sign out the book, that is, if the delinquent has returned it...

    Seriously, I'm with ya Sis. Thanks for sharing your knowledge on the subject.


You're leaving a comment?! Right on.