quotes from “the omnivore’s dilemma”

I’m in Colombia and have been for exactly one week today. It went by awfully fast–if my experience of time lately is to be judged, then I’m sure the next 12 will disappear just as rapidly as well. There’s a lot of things to say, but for now I’ll just write that the most recent book I’ve read is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I wasn’t going to bring it with me, but then I got really into it in Portland after my sister left it behind. I didn’t have time to finish it, so it ended up getting tossed into my plastic Fred Meyer cat bag, good for toting all things. To put it simply, I liked this book a lot. In my paper journal I wrote, “Reading this book has been like swallowing a white healing ball of light.” Jejeje. I’m surprised it took me this long to read it. Here’s some quotes I really liked (along with my notes from the margins when relevant):

On eating a McDonalds meal: “Perhaps the reason you eat this food quickly is because it doesn’t bear savoring. The more you concentrate on how it tastes, the less like anything it takes.” He goes on the call McDonalds the ultimate “signifier of comfort food. So you eat more and more quickly, hoping to somehow catch up with the original idea of a cheeseburger or a French fry as it retreats over the horizon. And so it goes, bite after bite, until you feel not satisfied exactly, but simply, regrettably, full.”

discussion of a premodern conception of organic agriculture (this made me think of microfinance, of all things!): (150) We don’t need to understand how humus works or what compost does in order to make good use of it. Our ignorance of the teeming wilderness that is the soil (even the act of regarding it as a wilderness is no impediment to nurturing it. To the contrary, a healthy sense of all we don’t know—even a sense of mystery—keeps us from reaching for oversimplifications and technological silver bullets.

(173) role of ritual in food: the organic free range chicken is similar to the front lawn in the sense that it’s a “ritual space, intended not so much for the use of the local residents as a symbolic offering to the larger community… to honor an ideal nobody wants to admit has by now become something of a joke, an empty pastoral conceit.”

(181) Quoted by the intern coordinator at training, all the way back in September: All carrots are not created equal, they believed; how we grow it, the soil we grow it in, what we feed that soil all contribute qualities to a carrot, qualities that may yet escape the explanatory net of our chemistry. We must begin treating the whole problem of health in soil, plant animal and man as one great subject.

(183) Definition of “unsustainable” that everyone keeps forgetting: Sooner or later it must collapse.

(184) Relationship between food and petroleum industry: the logic of capitalism, in which cheap petroleum has always been a given.

(198) proposes solutions of how to fight global warming: In the sixteen million acres now being used to feed cows in the United States became well-managed pasture, that would remove fourteen billions pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road.

(201) Main reason why things are this way: the temptations of cheap energy and Our civilization and, increasingly, our food system are strictly organized on industrial lines. They prize consistency, mechanization, predictability, interchangeability, and economics of scale… Since it can be accumulated and traded, grain is a form of wealth. It is a weapon too, the nations with the biggest surpluses of grain have always exerted power over the ones in short supply… The real beneficiary of his crop is not America’s eaters but its military-industrial complex.

(214) Permaculture-themed section. How you choose to measure efficiency makes all the difference.

(254) Point of book: A new conception of what it means to be a consumer.

(256) Similarity between capitalism and communism: The premise of global capitalism, much like the promise of communism before it, ultimately demands an act of faith: that if we permit the destruction of certain things we value here and now we will achieve a greater happiness and prosperity at some unspecified future time.

(259) Wendell Berry quote: eating is an agricultural act. Food as a political message. We can choose what we want to put into our bodies every day.

(279) Ishmael reminiscent theme of agriculture as a Biblical curse, in the Adam-and-Eve sense.

Argument against vegetarianism is interesting: (328) What’s wrong with eating animals is the practice, not the principle.

(303) the genius of capitalism, to create something akin to a state of nature in the modern supermarket

(318) Another critique against capitalism: another example of the cultural contradiction of capitalism: the tendency over time for the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society

(343) role of tourist in nature very interesting

(353) Ultimate message seems to be emphasizing important need for gratitude, for feeling grateful where food comes from. Makes me think of the scene of Avatar where he says this blessing after successfully killing this crazy looking deer alien. I think this is the main lesson I want to take away from this book… the need to express more gratitude. So on that note, I’d like to make a list of things I’m grateful right now (my “grace”, if you will):
– the fact that my computer didn’t fry Corey’s charger, despite the thick smell of burning plastic that recently filled the air
– the bats that dart around at dusk eating bugs
– the giant park right by our apartment
– the fact that we HAVE an apartment. we are extraordinarily lucky and blessed in this sense.
– my co-workers who are really cool, young and friendly.
– Corey who made me rice, pepper and pineapple stir fry for dinner
– the wireless signal on the balcony (the fact that we HAVE a balcony!)
– the mysterious fireworks going off in the distance–makes me feel intrigued, that there’s something out there somewhere that someone thinks is worth celebrating on such a scale!
– the fact that I arrived home safe and sound after a 2-day trip to branch offices and that the first thing I was able to do was 1) pee and 2) take a shower
– cold guayabas from the fridge

Here are some books he cited repeatedly in his bibliography that i’d like to check out:
Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming
Wendell Berry, The Last Whole Earth Catalog, Citizenship Papers: “The Whole Horse” essay (254), “The Total Economy” essay, (256) The Gift of Good Land. Home Economics. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture.
Paul Shepard
Leon Kass, The Hungry Soul
The Eternal Frontier (Tim Flannery)
Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser)
Collapse (Jared Diamond)
Terence McKenna Food of the Gods


Filed under non-fiction, quotes, social justice

2 responses to “quotes from “the omnivore’s dilemma”

  1. dang, julie, next time you’re in portland, can we be friends? i would love to talk with you about this stuff. also, i don’t know why i haven’t read this book yet either. the unsettling of america and the eternal frontier are on my reading list, too. i read most of collapse this past spring, and it was interesting, to a point. i put it down because i got bored by his way of presenting information at times in the book (very factual and list-y, sort of catalog-of-ships-esque). i keep meaning to pick it up again and finish it, though.

    if you want to read more michael pollan, i really recommend the botany of desire.

    • Julie

      lol heck yeah lets be friends! i know you’ve touched upon similar themes in your blog–weird how portland gets you to thinking about these things, huh? i get back to pdx in april and i’m not really sure what i’m doing next… but we should go mushroom hunting! corey’s a botanist/mushroom freak and i think it’s time to take advantage of it…

      i read the botany of desire three years ago but i think i need to reread it ’cause a lot of it just went through my ears… (it was recently after thesis!)

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