TTP Review of THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA by Michael Pollan

I am sorry to say that the following book review will not be terribly appetizing. That’s because I just finished digesting the super-sized helping of largely unpalatable facts and figures presented in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Before I go any further, I think it’s necessary to point out that I read the young reader’s edition because that’s what my daughter was assigned in her 8th grade English Language Arts class. I am very thankful she’s not yet taking college level courses. I’m not sure I could stomach the adult version of the story of what Pollan calls our “industrial food chain.”


Have you ever wondered, as you stroll the aisles of your favorite grocery store, where any of that stuff came from and how it got there? Have you ever pondered why a Big Mac is cheaper than a head of cabbage? Why do you suppose the volume of a standard soda keeps increasing while the price remains about the same? It all boils down to one simple yet startling statistic. Over the past forty years, our daily consumption of high fructose corn syrup has increased by roughly seventy percent. Our use of corn products in general is beyond mind boggling. In addition to recognizable foods such as canned corn, frozen corn, corn chips and taco shells, corn byproducts find their way into almost every processed food imaginable. Some of those same byproducts can be found in wallpaper paste, penicillin, cosmetics, ethanol, plastic, oil and glue. So, who’s hungry? From a nutritional standpoint, corn has almost nothing to offer but government subsidies make it nearly impossible for many farmers to grow any other crop. Here are a few more tid-bits to chew on.

A big percentage of the corn supply ends up in animal feed.  It makes sense. The livestock’s gotta eat too. However, corn isn’t always supposed to be on the menu. I’m sure you’ve heard of corn fed beef? It sounds really impressive and even healthy. Here’s the thing. Cattle don’t actually eat corn, at least not naturally. They are born grazers. That’s a slow process, though, and the industrial food chain doesn’t have the patience. So they are given a diet that includes a whole lot of corn plus a bunch of other garbage. On the plus side, it keeps beef affordable. The negatives are too numerous to mention.

Omnivore's Dilemma_Pollan     Even with the relatively low cost of a nice steak, beef is still more expensive than pork or chicken. That’s because cattle require far more food. How, then, are fast food restaurants able to sell burgers so cheaply? Hold on to your stomach. A lot of those burgers actually come from old dairy cattle. That’s why the all beef patty part of your Big Mac really doesn’t have much flavor. Thank God for special sauce.

Step up to the meat counter and, alongside the corn fed beef, you’ll see all those nicely wrapped packages of “free range” chicken. No doubt that label is supposed to elicit the sorts of images that make you feel very good about your Sunday dinner. Picture this instead. Those cherished chickens are only given the opportunity to range during the final two weeks of their lives. By then, they are so used to being confined that they don’t bother going outdoors. And often, they can’t do so anyway because their legs are too weak to hold up their own over-fed bodies.

On second thought, maybe we’ll skip the Sunday barbecue this week in favor of a nice egg brunch.    Here’s the problem with that plan. The “farms” where egg-laying hens are raised are sometimes on the level of concentration camps. The hens are confined to tiny cages and in such close proximity to each other that they often get combative. Their beaks are then removed so they don’t become a danger to themselves or each other. How do hens continue to produce eggs under such conditions? In many instances, they don’t. They are then starved which spurs a brief period of increased egg production right before they die.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. The industrial food chain is cheap and that’s what keeps it going. If you want to buy lunch for a dollar some sacrifices have to be made. The less you know about those sacrifices the better.  And the more you know the worse that food is likely to taste. We can all make better decisions. We can all try to make a point of eating healthier and more naturally. Just know that it will be more expensive, more limiting and often more difficult. That, my friends, is the Omnivore’s Dilemma.


If you like what you’ve read,visit me at, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. You can also pick up a copy of A Shot at Redemption or my new suspense novel, Parlor City Paradise.

GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

     Mary Roach has been called the world’s funniest science writer.  I have no idea if that’s true.  It does occur to me that there can’t be a tremendous amount of competition in that particular category.  That said, she’s responsible for one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, science writing or otherwise.  In Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Roach compares male impotence to the attempt to feed a raw oyster into a parking meter.  That line alone is worth the price of admission.  And, although I’m a big fan of Bonk, as a noun or a verb, this is a review of Mary’s latest work, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.  Incidentally, the raw oyster makes another appearance.  Any idea how long that oyster lives after disappearing down your gullet?  What do you suppose he/she/it is thinking or feeling in those final moments?  Gulp answers those questions along with hundreds of others.  It’s all presented with the author’s unparalleled attention to detail and uniquely comical flare.  Said Roach, “There are plenty of books about the brains… the blood, the bones, but the pie hole and the poop shoot are mine.”  It’s phrased a little differently on the dust jacket but I think you get the idea.     


     Mary Roach has proven repeatedly that she’s willing to go anywhere, ask any question, and do almost anything if there’s a chance her efforts will help get to the bottom (pun upcoming) of whatever mystery she may be trying to solve.  So, did you know there’s an erotic device called an anal violin?  I considered looking for an appropriate hyperlink for that but decided it probably would have led places I really, really don’t want to go.  Sex organ, anal violin, skin flute, blow job–we’ve got the makings of an entire orchestra; or, at the very least, a memorable quartet.  What were we talking about again?  Oh yeah.  In researching Gulp, Roach tasted the skin of a narwhal, sampled various liquids used to make grain based kibbles palatable to a natural carnivore like a house cat, reached into a cow up to her armpit to examine the inner workings of a bovine stomach, and studied in depth (figurative term) exactly how much contraband can be smuggled inside a human rectum, and all in the name of science.  

     Gulp will undoubtedly teach you more than you ever wanted to know about the human digestive tract.  You’ll come out with a greater understanding of and appreciation for a system most of us take largely for granted.  As an added bonus, the book is sure to enhance your vocabulary.  Let’s see here: nine letters, begins with an M–an abnormal enlargement which can occur between the cecum and rectum.  Ah, gotta be MEGACOLON.  Oh, and when you read Gulp, which you absolutely should, make sure you don’t skip any of the footnotes.           


    If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Wishful Thinking blog, in which I share samples of my work, publish some original short fiction, discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to make  it as a new novelist, and from September to February, talk lots and lots of football.  Please visit  You can also find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova


Skip to toolbar