I have been avoiding reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma for three years now. I feared it would be an expensive book and, indeed, it has turned out to be. On the bright side, I have a huge reader's-crush on Michael Pollan and can't recommend the book highly enough.
It's been about three years since we begin transitioning to a traditional, real, whole food diet. All this time I've known that we should replace our grocery-store meat with meat from critters that have eaten a healthy, traditional diet, but the cost was a huge barrier.
A friend and a relative each kindly sold us some grass-fed beef, but our pork and chicken continue to come from Walmart.
This incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking book traces four meals from start to finish: from the corn fields of Iowa to a MacDonald's hamburger; from big-business organics to a Whole Foods-purchased dinner; from a revolutionary beyond-organic farm to a locally sourced fresh meal; from woods and streets near Pollan's home to a freshly foraged meal.
Here's what I've known for three years that should have pushed me to start buying better meat:
1) Animals fed a traditional diet (i.e. grass for cows, chickens who have access to scratch for bugs, etc) are healthier. The meat they become is healthier.
2) Animals fed a traditional diet have a better ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids. Animals fed too much corn and soy based food have a much higher level of omega 6 fatty acids. Because of this, we Americans are getting far too many Omega 6s and not nearly enough Omega 3s (compared to a traditional diet) contributing to a host of health issues.
What Michael Pollan made come alive for me--as only an excellent writer can:
1) Animals raised for mass markets are treated cruelly, routinely. The book is not a gruesome blow-by-blow recounting of animal cruelty, but with a few well-chosen details he makes vivid the lot in life for these sorts of animals: treatment we would never tolerate if we were witness to it, but because we are so removed from our food sources, we turn a blind eye . . . while we buy Christmas presents for our dogs and cats.
2) Many of these animals are being fed corn (not a traditional part of their diet). The corn is being subsidized by the government, which is part of what makes it affordable to feed this unnatural food to these critters. As I read about the corn subsidies, it suddenly clicked that this is a huge part of why grocery store meat seems so much less expensive than healthier alternatives: way back in the chain, the corn is subsidized, which in turn means at the critters to which the corn is fed are subsidized too. So . . . we're all essentially on food stamps. The government is subsidizing every American's grocery bill. No wonder we're in such a financial mess as a nation.
I think I've always had a vague feeling that people selling grass-fed beef and pastured chickens were selling their products at exploitative prices. I've realized now that I'm just conditioned to such low prices for meat because of the underlying government subsidies.
Modern Food Foraging
I've resolved not to buy meat at the grocery store any longer. I'm not sure I'll be able to make a clean break, but I've been scrambling to find meat sources that are local, traditionally-raised critters who have led happy lives before my freezer stash runs out.
I've been scouring internet sites (like eatwild.com), calling real-food-eating friends, interrogating the owner of the local feed store, researching my neighborhood covenants to figure out if I may have a few laying hens in my back yard, and eying the chubby quail that skitter around the neighborhood.
I may not have a bow and arrow slung across my back or a hand-woven bug-bag around my neck, but with cell phone in hand and high speed internet, I've been foraging like the snow-bound technology-age girl I am.