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Week 2--The Omnivore's Dilemma

Anne Dalke's picture
In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan takes on a number of pieces of conventional wisdom. He challenges the Whole Foods supermarket chain, for instance, for obscuring, in its marketing, its involvement in the "industrial organic complex." Contrariwise, he challenges vegans & vegetarians for their failure to understand how the natural world works, and finds their ethical position naive. So how do you react to such claims? Are you convinced? Do you want to challenge them in turn, push back? Or...?
abhattacha's picture

Farmers' markets versus

Farmers' markets versus global food . The planet versus the pocketbook . More to consider about something as second nature as eating . Imagine calculating the food miles of your fish !
It's frightening when we ponder where we are headed . Will a time come when the world as we know it will cease to exist ? Or will we inhabit a virtual world - having , for example ,virtual meals - sort of a pill to have your fill ?

abhattacha's picture

Farmers' markets versus

Farmers' markets versus global food . The planet versus the pocketbook . More to consider about something as second nature as eating . Imagine calculating the food miles of your fish !
It's frightening when we ponder where we are headed . Will a time come when the world as we know it will cease to exist ? Or will we inhabit a virtual world - having , for example ,virtual meals - sort of a pill to have your fill ?

jfahl's picture

If your upset buy local


     I am a little shocked at the animosity some of the members of this class feel towards Whole Food and the "organic industry" after doing the reading. I think that it is heartening that the organic trend would become popular enough to turn into an 11 billion dollar industry. It gives tells the food industry that consumers are willing to take on considerable extra cost in order to have (in theory) less processed, less chemically enhanced, and more local food. While I agree that it was disappointing that Rosie the chicken's life was so similar to a average industrial chicken, I still believe that whole foods is a step in the right direction.     

     The only way to guaranteed that one has a truly organic experience is to buy local food. Local coops and farmers markets are becoming ever more popular, and accessible. There you can buy locally grown fruits and veggies from members of your community. Your carrots will not have traveled more than 40 miles, rather than across the country and sometimes the world. Your food is guaranteed to have no corn gloss spread over it.  The problem with local foods is that, at least in the United States, we have begun to expect tomatoes in January and pineapple in March. Buying local foods will severely decrease your food options. But if you want to know the back-story of your carrot, you can ask the famer directly.


mkmerrill's picture

After reading the chapter

After reading the chapter "Big Organic" I was very suprised to learn that organic food isn't really all that organic. Yes, I understand that the way "organic" food is grown/treated differs from the way "industrial" food is grown/treated, but the flowery images of a wonderful farm life and fresh production seem in my opinion to be over done and essentially false advertising. Whole Food's puts so much effort into trying to convince their customers of their "organicness" when in reality its differences from industrial produced food aren't that great.

This whole time I thought the purpose of places like Whole Foods was to provide somewhat of a safe haven away from the industrialization of food production,but now I see otherwise. As Peter would ask, "How can you trust what Pollan says?", "What gives him the authority to make such claims?". In response I would have to point out the fact that not only did Pollan make the claim, he researched it; going to organic farms and relaying back to the reader the things he whitnessed. Overall I think the facts and examples he supplies as result of his findings alone poke a big hole in the framework of the organic food indutry. I understand that places like Whole Foods need to make profit just like any other big chain (or small chain for that matter), but I disagree with the way it goes about doing so.

aybala50's picture

You and me, we are money!

Pollan challenges the Whole Food's Supermarket for it's involvement in the "industrial organic complex." Though I don't trust Pollan in everything he says in his writing, I do believe him when he talks about the Whole Food's Supermarket and how this institution does a billion things to convince people to buy their food. As the name suggests the Whole Food's Supermarket IS and industry and so their main goal is to make money while not getting sued. So while they are, in my opinion, trying their best not to screw up anything in the process of making the product, besides this their main focus is to make money. This whole world, even food (especially food) revolves around money. I wouldn't have expected any other outcome from his research in the Whole Food's Supermarket. 
mhan's picture

in my eyes

Pollan’s novel served as a wake-up call for me. I always assumed that organic foods were healthier simply because they were “organic”. I always thought that these foods were not only fresh but also contained less chemicals than processed foods. Now I realize that some organic foods may contain synthetics, or preservatives, and thus there may be more chemicals in organic products than inorganic. Previous anxiety from not buying organic products are beginning to subside, moreover, I now think it wasteful to spend extra money on the organic product as opposed to the non-organic product(or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to justify myself!). But regardless of the disadvantages or advantages of organic foods, I don’t think Pollan necessarily wants us to change our minds about the foods we eat, but I believe he would like us to know more about the foods we dismiss as “healthy” that we so we can make informed choices.Although Pollan’s words aren’t necessarily easy to digest, it has proven useful for my ignorant self.

msmith07's picture

"Get over it"

The mechanics of organic farming never really entered my thoughts while shopping at the supermarket. The lofty ideals of “better-for-you” and “closer-to-nature” were more prominently advertised. But as Pallen describes the beginnings of the organic now-superpower, Earthbound Farms, I find myself sympathizing with the farm owners and with most of the other organic industry leaders. They wanted their organic food ideals to reach as many people as possible – a nice sentiment in theory, but nearly impossible in execution without some sort of industrialization. No one should blame the organic industry compromising in some areas in order to try to achieve their goal as much as possible.
As other people have stated in this forum, truly organic produce is available to you at your nearest farmer’s market. If you don’t want to put in the effort, then you’ll have to do some compromising, too, and deal with the pseudo-organic inventory at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
akaltwasse's picture

rosie's two-week vacation option and the great masticator

In the selections we read this past week, the bit about Rosie the "free-range" chicken stuck with me the most.  At first it was just the way-too creepy fact that anyone in his or her right mind would think that giving a dinner a name would make it more appetizing and likely to sell.  As I said in class on Tuesday, the American people are disconnected from their food and its origins and have been for some time (we collectively deduced that it was from the invention of the can?).  The last thing we want is to think what we're eating ever lived, ever felt pain or happiness or slept or ran about or has any sort of connection to us whatsoever, besides nutritional value.  People and chairs from Ikea have names (what is up with that?!), not dinner.  It's just dinner, just chicken, not roasted Rosie with a slice of Fred on the side and some Preston Peas and Chloe Custard for dessert.

 And how is it that we've almost all been swayed this way, that we've all become ultra-sensitive?  Is it a strain of the poltically correct virus?  The years of getting our meat in geometric form, sealed neatly with cellophane, almost bloodless altered us.  There is no life in our meat, but we like it that way.  I've dissected two pigeons-- it isn't pretty.  But I love chicken.  I learned what type of birds have white meat, and why.  Yet I sit there, at my kitchen table, eating my white meat, often boneless chicken breast.  And when I think of the hassle it was to cook, the energy my mom put into it, the energy I put into helping her, it is nowehere near what it must have been, nowehere near the effort my two friends and I put into those pigeons.  We're babied by these clean cuts, pampered to a point.  We want animal rights, we want Rosie to go outdoors and join in all the chicken games and squak and bob her head about the grass...but we want Rosie in our grocery stores neatly packaged and precise so we can forget it's even Rosie.

But back to sway...since before I was born (1989. take that, 1990.), food's been presented to us that way.  In the reading for Thursday's class, Pollan wrote about fad diets, how in 2002 the Atkins story turned the nation's food ideology upside-down.  We dive head-first into what we're given, what's available.  As omnivores, we're both neophiles and neophobics, and these fads appeal to our neophilic (is that a word?) side.  And so we get Horace Fletcher, the Great Masticator, doomed to a suggestive nickname all because he thought he'd try chewing his food 100 times before swallowing it.  We're slaves to industrial food, Horace was a slave to excess mastication, the desperate folks who followed Atkins were slaves to, well, not our natural desire to find new things to eat and new ways to eat, our fear of doing just that traps us in the new things we've come up with, at least for awhile (briefly in the case of fads, but not in industrial food).  Being omnivorous is truly a dilemma.

nmackow's picture

to eat or not to eat meat.

I’ve never actually shopped at a Whole Foods supermarket or a Trader Joe’s. But there is a food store, Wild by Nature, that I do shop at. Although I don’t typically buy the organic foods it sells (I go there for fresh bread and good deli meat) I always had the idea that they were unprocessed and closer to nature. At least closer than my sliced deli ham. I’m glad I’m reading this book because it has opened my eyes a bit more to the machinations of the food industry and the manipulation of its newest pet, organic. I’ve never been one to believe labels, especially when the purpose of the labels is to get money from a consumer. But I always thought that some food items were worth spending a few extra dollars for. Now I’m not so sure.

As for Vegans and Vegitarians… well I think that’s there own choice. To state that vegans and vegetarians fail to understand how things work and therefore possibly shouldn’t be vegans or vegetarians, Pollan is contradicting his statement about the human’s ability to make a conscious decision about what they eat. I know some vegetarians who don’t eat meat think they’re helping animals by consuming one less steak. I disagree with this ideology because, despite their efforts, the animals will still be killed for every other carnivorous human in the world.

But, really, vegetarianism is a personal choice. If eating meat makes one think of the animal that was killed for the meal, and if that thought is disgusting to a person, then by all means they have the right to abstain from meat consumption. Pollan mentions that predation is a fact of nature but what we’ve done is created a business that manufactures meat. Eating this meat is not predation. There is no hunting involved, no natural selection in which only the strong cows survive. Thus I disagree with Pollan’s implication that our slaughtering of chickens and cows is in any way similar to predation. It’s not necessary for individual survival to eat meat. I believe we are meant to eat meat (evolution points towards this assertion) but it doesn’t hurt anyone if they choose not to.
Holly Wiencek's picture

my view

Sorry, I didn't mean to post that comment yet!

Anyway, I think that Pollan's claims are somewhat in accordance with the chart we made in class the other day. Whole Foods is for the people that find pleasure in not knowing and vegetarians and vegans are the people that find pleasure in knowing the truth. But, again I was surprised to find that while I was annoyed that Whole Foods would use propaganda it doesn't make me want to not shop there. I suppose I assume that maybe non-organic supermarkets use worse practices.

I find that I trust Pollan's claims because he writes from his own experiences, maybe I am too trusting. But I think that I tend to trust people who have participated in situations for themselves, rather than someone who is just repeating information that they have researched themselves.

Holly Wiencek's picture

I agree with many people

I agree with many people that I wasn't too surprised about the propaganda that Whole Foods uses. I think it just plays well into my cynical attitude towards things like politics and big business. And, while I understand his statement about vegetarians and vegans, I have a lot more respect for vegetarians and vegans. One of my best friends is vegan and I have several vegetarian friends and each of them has made this decision based on much research and personal reflection--and I deeply admire them for this. And to say that they have not considered the natural way of the world is ridiculous to me because the number of times that my vegetarian and vegan friends have been questioned and challenged about their choices is really more than I can count.

Eliza Brennan-Pratt's picture

Sweet Confusion

Without a doubt, I have become increasingly confused about the everyday food choices I make. I am a lover of Whole Foods, and the name conjures up a variety of delicious foods in my mind, from produce to desserts and everything in between. Simply by buying groceries at Whole Foods, I now realize that I was operating under a false sense of security. I thought, “food here must be healthier and of better quality than the food I buy at Stop and Shop.” To some extent that might be true, but I never knew how caught up I was in the “farmer pastoral” marketing technique that large organic companies want me to eat up. Sure, my food is grown without pesticides but “spraying approved organic agents” and detrimental heavy tilling still exist. What most disillusioned me was the true treatment of free range, organic chickens. I always pictured my chickens to be roaming a small field in the sun while periodically stopping to enjoy their chicken feed. Now I have a very different image of crowded chickens with hardly any outdoor space at all.

Not only was my idea of what “organic” means truly outdated, but also I was unaware of the big business side of the food industry. A part of me wants to cringe at my apparent naiveté, but I would guess that I’m not alone in this. The saying, “ignorance is bliss” truly applied to my previous thinking, yet despite the conflicting ideas and opinions racing around in my head, I feel happy for knowing. Just as a difficult math concept might hit me, I will be bogged down by confusion, but inevitably I trust that I’ll find some sense in all of this. The goal is that eventually I’ll make food decisions not on my incorrect assumptions but on actual fact. For the pleasure that hopefully waits, I’m willing to endure the confusion

cantaloupe's picture

the human race

Pollan's findings about the Whole Foods supermarket and so-called "organic" products didn't surprise me.  Did we really believe that somewhere there were chickens roaming freely?  Of course our meat comes from animals that are confined; we are in the 21st century.  We have evolved into this crazy, brutal society in which the main priority is to further our race.  It is natural for humans to do anything possible to benefit themselves; we are inherently greedy.  It is natural for any species to do so.


As I read the chapter on the ethics of eating animals, I expected myself to be rooting more for animal rights.  When I was a kid I used to hate it when my brother killed bugs.  I used to get really upset and ask him how he would feel if he was a bug.  He always responded that he wasn't a bug, so he didn't have to worry about it.  That logic used to really bother me because I wanted to know how he would feel if he was a bug being killed for no reason.  Now, I have more trust in the natural flow of things.  People will argue that our industrial food chain is not natural; that we are, in fact, disrupting nature.  My thought is that we are nature.  What we do in this world is part of nature.  How come we have separated ourselves from it and anything we do industrially is considered bad?


We are carnivores; we are meant to eat meat.  Therefore, we are meant to kill animals.  I know that some vegetarians don’t eat meat because of the way meat is slaughtered in America.  I respect their decision; I don’t condemn people for being vegetarian.  I just personally wouldn’t be.  I don’t think anyone, including animal rights people, will get America to change back into what it used to be.  We are too used to cheap meat.  The slaughterhouses will stay the same and I’m okay with that.  I believe humans have an obligation to help their own species before they help something else.  What do animal rights activists have to say about all the human suffering?

jpfeiffer's picture

My Response to Pollan

I could see why many people prior to reading the passage concerning Whole Foods could view the natural supermarket mogul as a grocery store type of utopia. After entering the welcoming doors and being greeted by a mass array of fresh fruits and vegetables coupled with the freshest slices of meat, fish, and poultry it is quite difficult to see why Whole Foods wouldn’t be considered as being practically perfect. I admit that I too, did not quite think about the numerable similarities between a "regular" grocery store and a Whole Foods supermarket after being caught up in the aesthetic nostalgia and the inviting atmosphere found in each of their stores. I personally work at an all natural and organic market, and I was quite surprised at first to find myself unloading boxes, packed in bulk of organic chicken and produce that was shipped from all over the world, and certainly not as “close to home” as I originally thought. Nonetheless, I guess it is imperative for the organic food companies to become less personal and more global in order to suit the demand for their products. In response to our latest reading about vegetarianism and the ethical and moral dilemmas concerning our decision to consume meat, or animals for that matter, I feel as though that the arguments and information presented by Pollan are extremely valid. He is able to put into many different perspectives an argument that reiterates its presence in society each and every day. I personally, do not consume very much meat. However, I do not have any particular reason as to why I chose to consume or not consume meat, and therefore I believe that it should be the choice of the specific individual to chose whether they want to consume meat or not. Society or the media should not have any bearing on their choice because each side of the argument, in my opinion, presents logical arguments. *Jenna
yhongo's picture

It's all about business


After reading this chapter, I came to the conclusion that the entire world revolves around business. It is all about competition. In a way, this fierce competition is important because it makes us strive for the best. Yet at the same time, we can get carried away and eventually go beyond what's necessary. For example, news stations such as CNN and MSNBC have aired disturbing video clips to the public. They could have chosen not to show the video, but because they feared that other stations would air it before them, they took the chance and released disturbing images. Once again, this all comes down to competitiveness and business. The food industry works in a similar way. We have always known the level of competition within the "processed foods" industry. However, who would have ever thought of the rivalry between "organic" food companies? (or should we say, "industrial organic"?.) My mother and I shop at Whole Foods from time to time, and I always believed that the organic foods sold there were harmless and completely trustworthy. Apparently not, according to Michael Pollan. I in fact do believe Pollan and the research he did about organic foods. Therefore, it scares me to think that these "organic" foods that I have been eating are not quite "organic". Looking at this from organic food companies' perspective, however, it is understandable in the sense that they are trying to produce products with the best "taste" in the fastest manner. These companies will do whatever it takes, as long as it guarantees them success. It is sad to see how corrupt this world is, and how business is everyone's top priority. 

Anna Melker's picture

Why pick on the little guys?

(my id is also not work)

While I agree with Pollan's arguments against the corn industry and how it is becoming responsible for ingredients in so many foods we eat, I think that he is being very unfair towards organic farming and vegetarianism. Perhaps I feel this way because I identify with both 'modes' of living, but I think that Pollan shows a very one-sided argument.
For instance, when taking on "Big Organic", Pollan fails to describe chemical farming and its impacts on water, humans, and soil. I studied organic vs. chemical farming in my AP Environmental Science course last year, it has been proved that since the dawn of chemical fertilizers and the use of pesticides, food production has become more difficult--it requires more fertilizers and more pesticides to get the job done (and in many cases, the pests have become immune or developed a genetic mutation to overcome the poisons in the pesticides, rendering them useless). But does Pollan mention this? No. He simply attacks the organic movement, which I agree is flawed in many ways, such as the use of monocultures and the mode of transportation to supermarkets. But does organic imply carbon neutral? No. Organic means no pesticides and no antibiotics and no chemical fertilizers.
Pollan mentions the use of immigrant laborers working in the california organic lettuce fields. But does he consider the immigrant labor in harvesting non-organic foods? No. It's true that the organic movement is no longer a cultural or ideological way of life, and it now resembles a money-making machine like its non-organic counterparts. But the fact that there is land where no chemicals are pumped into the ground artificially (instead of rotating crops or planting nitrogen-fixing legumes during off season like Earthbound does) and no pesticides poison the underground water aquifers is a cause enough for me. Pollan can eat all the non-organic food he wants, but I won't take his argument.

lwscott's picture

To believe or not to believe?

I have always been a very trusting person. I like believe in the good of society and therefore trust that when I leave my door unlocked that no one will come inside and steal my stuff. However, when it comes to what goes in my mouth I am a little more wary. As I read Pollan, I am less and less trusting of the industrial food industry and the food that claims to be organic. I have to keep in mind that he is a writer trying to sell books and make money and I shouldn't fully believe everything that he says. So as I try to use my own judgement (which I trust less than the "expert") I think about my own environment and how it may differ from Pollan's.
This summer my brother worked at an certified organic farm called Even' Star. I got the grand tour and was given the opportunity to talk to the owner of the farm. The farm is about 8 acres but only half of it is used for farming the rest is woods. Even' Star is organic in the sense that it doesn't use pesticides or fertilizers and considers how the treatment of their crops will effect the environment. I truly believe that Even' Star's practices are genuine because it's my own brother planting and picking. However I am not naive enough to believe that all organic farms can be as great as Even' Star. To some extent Pollan's accusations have truth to them but for now I'm sticking with my own instincts.



Lydia Scott

Stephanie Kim's picture

**my id still isn't working

**my id still isn't working and it doesnt send an email to my account, so i'm guessing my email wasn't entered in? I'll reply and see what happens anyways**

I feel that Pollan is being very critical and looking deeply into each topic fishing for ways to contridict and argue against it. I guess in a certain way, that we would have to agree to the claims he makes. Yet, I feel that he's not particularly giving us an answer or a hypothetical process that we should specifically follow to satisfy him. Thus, I can't be completely convinced, but I do see a point he is making - he takes a clear, critical angle in this book and continues to play that role throughout the book.

This leads me to conclude and assume that he himself he dramatizing all possible means of producing organic foods (and other subjects in other chapters).
If in fact, we worked to make all foods possible organic, the price would probably shoot up, causing a decrease in the demand. Economically, I feel that how Whole Foods is working is an economically-smart way to run an efficient, healthy supermarket. People do want to eat healthy, but not so much that we'd have to pour our entire saving account into it.

I question his own habits of eating and whether he would objectively say that he himself is also being naiive, or if because he has reviewed all aspects of the omnivore's dilemma, that he's better-off than the vegans and vegetarians who 'failure to understand how the natural world works'.

mmg's picture


I am going to be honest. I would have perhaps been more affected or less indifferent to his claims if I had some personal stake or claim to the products he did his ‘expose’ on. I am not an American; I have never been to Whole Foods. Back home, we almost never use pre-processed or microwaveable dinners. We do eat out, including at McDonald’s. (That would be our corn source, along with perhaps the breakfast cereals I deign to eat). I am not a vegan, and the only brush I have had with organic foods was a conversation with a fair trade coffee grower back near my boarding school and a chapter in biology on applied plant and animal science that listed the differences between organic and chemical farming. However, I do applaud Pollan’s efforts in enlightening the average, confused, helpless consumer (or so he would like to think). Being a sceptic myself, I never completely bought into the idea of a complete return to pastoral beginnings in agriculture, simply because with the pace of life today, you would have to drug and hypnotise me to make me believe that a large scale producer of food puts in the amount of time, effort, patience and the risk of losing out that is the principle of organic food production. I was on the ‘other side’ to begin with. As a completely informative piece of writing then, I do believe that Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma lowers its credibility at times by over-emphasising points. There is something in his style of dramatising things that has put me off slightly. On the other hand, for me as an inquisitive reader, Pollan’s research brings out things I had not known before; and which, in that capacity, make it worthwhile for me to be reading his work. The detail he went into to describe the organic food industry is one of many among such things. Also, he points out many things in his course of writing that apart from being interesting, are striking in their content. The references to ‘the fetishism of science as the only credible tool with which to approach nature’, ‘organic farming increasingly coming to resemble the industrial system it originally set out to replace’, ‘the powers and limitations of reductionist science’ and ‘Supermarket Pastoral as a most seductive literary form, beguiling enough to survive in the face of a great many discomfiting facts’ being some of these. That, to be honest is the manner in which this chapter has affected me – philosophical judgment of these claims made by Pollan.

  What any of us, including Pollan is forgetting that in today’s time, where every man on the planet is guilty one way or the other of slowly and unsustainably sucking out bit by bit of earth’s limited resources, everyone is looking for ways in which they can let their conscience – another dimension that has been expanding significantly in this age, thanks to others like Pollan and their equally commendable efforts in bringing out certain inconvenient truths (any allusion was completely intentional) -  rest in peace using the least amount of effort. If buying the chicken that you know will taste almost the same (not as juicy, according to Pollan) as the one you eat with your rice every night will help in that direction, then a label that says ‘organic’ will do the trick. In that, he is wasting his time. For the people who have been convinced by his commendable efforts, it won’t be long until another way to suppress their guilt comes along. For other’s, Rosie will be good enough.
abhattacha's picture

There's a demon in my

There's a demon in my head that I have to set to rest , one way or the other . The Hilsa , my favourite food , migrates upstream from the salt-water estuaries during the breeding season . This is a fatal move , for the fresh water upstream imparts the perfect balance of sweet and saline to the Hilsa roe . The taste of Hilsa roe is a connoisseur's delight and every consignment of potential baby Hilsas is eagerly devoured .
The wrong with eating animals has to be the principle .  What gives us humans the right to use our power to kill those weaker than ourselves ? If we give ourselves the licence to kill , we must do so with consciousness , ceremony and respect , and right the wrong of practice . Michael Pollan gives us a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism is capable of in the absence of any moral or regulatory constraint whatsoever . The law of natural selection decrees that the big fish eat the little fish and only the fittest survive . Michael Pollan tries to ensure that this process becomes as humane as it can possibly be .         
mcchen's picture

Pollan's claims about

Pollan's claims about organic foods did shock me but I am still skeptical about his claims.  He has done a lot of research and I feel as though I should believe what he says but I would also like to see for myself.  The companies making these "organic products" have a lot of competition with other producers and in the end it seems as though they now view it just as a business.  Viewing it as a business makes it more about making money and hiding the truth from the consumers.  While it's not morally right, these people are just trying to make a living in a highly competitive market.  They are able to make so much money off of us consumers because we have become so hyped up on the word organic that we sometimes don't stop to think about what the word actually means.  As consumers we should not be so naive and believe everything we see on a packaging label.

-Michelle Chen
lraphael's picture

my only trip to whole foods

This summer for a few weeks I worked in Annapolis, MD as a nanny for my cousin's son. My cousin's wife would take me grocery shopping at Whole Foods and to me it was a supermarket heaven. In the cheese section alone I felt like I was in a whole new world. Every section I looked there were organic marvels and I felt like I had finally met the supermarket of all supermarkets.

When Pollan rips apart Whole Foods it made me so sad, because for not only me but for my family I felt like he was ripping apart what it stood for -- a life of organic and healthy food accessible close to home. For so long in my life my family has searched far and wide at organic health food stores for gluten-free tasty food (which is hard to come across), all  because my father is allergic to wheat. I told my mother about Whole Foods after I visited it in Annapolis and and she got excited about the fact that there was a whole supermarket that we could shop at and have a better chance of less migraines for my father, instead of a tiny health food store miles away. She and I felt like the search for his better food for not only my father but for our family was closer than ever before. When Pollan ripped apart the organic milk, it really crushed my ignorance of a perfect organic world. My family loves to buy organic milk because now my father (and me) are on the verge of being lactose and tolerant and we think organic milk is better to have for us. I guess to me it was always okay if the label said organic because I had nothing else to compare it to. Now even though it might say organic I feel untrusting of it. To me Pollan has made me nervous to walk into a supermarket now because I am afraid that it will crush my hopes for a perfect gluten-free and yummy meal at home. 



mlapiana's picture

Big Organic

I found this chapter especially interesting, because my family does shop at Whole Foods pretty often. It is scary how similar the conventional industrial process is to the organic food process which has become indutrialized. The biggest differences are that the animals are fed organic corn and soy feed while the plants are sprayed with pesticides that are derived from plants. It was shocking to hear that most of the organic companies became organic to develop an economic niche as opposed to coming from small-farm ideals. I am from the East Bay in northern California in a town very near to Berkeley so the idea of the "greening" of the counterculture and learning about the hippies in people's park was very interesting. The USDA is very lineant in what they call "healthy" and "organic". This is evident in the fact that they permit some food additives and synthetic chemicals in organic food. Another sad fact that stood out in my mind was the inefficiency of the food industry. An example is the organic salad. They said that to grow, chill, wash, package and tranport a box of organic salad take 57 claories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food. Finally, a theme that striked me was the danger of the oversimplification of nature.
ihe's picture


How is human hunting a matter of symbiosis? OR rather how is "organically" raised cattles a matter of symbiosis. Are we and the cattles similar organisms? is there mutualism involved? We raise the cattles then we kill them. It is not part of the natural food chain and it does not cycle back in the wild. 

When a wolf eats a deer, it's following the food chain, in a certain order. however if we eat the deer, the deer is leaving the food chain.  and when we raise cattles, the cattles aren't even part of the natural food chain. They are more like industrial products that we have created and used, and not really living creatures.


I think it's okay for us to eat meat, hunt for meat, if it is not done in mass amounts. we should not exploit our resources just because we can, and we are "superior" Everything should take environemtnal sustailability into account. we could possible kill off endangered animals because we have taken away their food. 

So when we are raising "industrially organic" food it is not symbiosis.



abhattacha's picture

Ebb and flow of foods

All of us are buffeted by the ebb and flow of the food fads which are an inescapable part of our times. Few of us go beyond them to try and understand the motives (not always altruistic) and implications (not unfailingly beneficial) of these "flavours of the day". Michael Pollan does.

Drawing on his formidable powers of investigative journalism, Pollan argues his profound insights with passion and eloquence. His prose, though occasionally heavy for an infant on the path to literary erudition like me, is often exquisite - when he talks, for example, of the 'collective spasms' which afflict our times, the restoration of the 'blamelessness of steak', the 'moral stain' on bread and pasta bankrupting bakeries , 'the koala's culinary preferences (which) are hardwired in its genes' , 'the cornucopia of the American supermarket (which) has thrown us back on a bewildering food landscape' , the lack of 'a steadying culture of food' , paying 'the full karmic price of a meal' , or 'the intricate dance of domestication'.

We agree with Pollan that the confusion and anxiety surrounding what to eat is rooted in the rootlessness of a relatively new nation formed of many immigrant populations who have lost touch with their native wisdom , and exacerbated by the double-edged sword of omnivory which ' offers the pleasures of variety ' and ' allows humans to successfully inhabit virtually every terrestrial environment on the planet ' but brings a lot of stress with it ', notwithstanding our big and intricate brains and expert help from investigative journalists and nutritionists .

We accept Pollan's argument that our place in the food chain has changed us just as we have modified the food chains we depend on . We must be grateful to Michael Pollan for reminding us that with greater power comes greater responsibility ; and that our position at the top of the food pyramid demands that we eat responsibly .

- Aparajita Bhattacharyya

swhitt's picture

Ethical question

Pollan points not only to the deceptive marketing of organic produce, but the long-term environmental disaster and possible eventual collapse of our society that we can expect if we continue to rape our land with industrial (including industrial organic) farming. He claims that our current system produces ethically and nutritionally unhealthy food now and catastrophe in the long run. I'm still wary of his claims that we should all become more knowledgable about and engaged with the source of our food (which in turn will lead to greater pleasure in our consumption of same), while becoming less inquisitive about the process by which nature creates our food (as scientific investigation encourages dangerous tinkering with nature).

Pollan's claims lead me to questions. We are a naturally curious and organized species - is it possible to refrain from investigating the wonders of our world? If possible, would that decision be morally correct or an abuse of our intellect? If not possible or correct, how can we prevent enterprising organizations from abusing scientific discovery to turn a profit at the expense of the consumer, the natural world and ultimately our entire civilization? Is this doable in a capitalist society?

I also am curious to see Pollan's ideal food situation. The vast majority of Americans are so reliant on industrial food that we would be incapable of feeding ourselves without it. Even experienced farmers are vulnerable to the quirks of nature.  If we restored immediacy to the individual/food connection, I believe that we would also experience a rapid decline in population.  It seems that this would be great for the environment and ultimately great for our species.  But how could we as connected individuals psychologically and emotionally navigate this sort of regression? How do we choose between the survival of ourselves and our loved ones v. the survival of our kind, and is that a choice we may face in the foreseeable future (in the next 1-200 years)?

Shoshi's picture

I read the section about the

I read the section about the propaganda and I was disgusted by the lengths corporate America will go to squeeze a few more dollars out of a customer, but, at the same time, not at all surprised. it is true that it would be incredibly costly and make their products more "vulnerable" to truly go full-fledged organic, but I think they should not be able to advertise as such if they are not willing to go the extra mile. I believe going full organic is best for everyone, farmers, consumers, and farm workers. It will improve national health, I believe, in ways we can not even imagine, simply because we do not know all the little intricate chemical reactions that occur between humans and plants.
lwacker's picture

Mirror, Mirror

What I found to be most interesting in this past reading was the common ideology amongst previously "People's Park" based "organic farmers." The Gene Kahns of the now ever burgeoning industrial organic market are being forced to relinquish the ideals in which they began the movement in order to sustain their businesses and compete with other "non-organic" food companies. Pollan poses the question "at what point do "organic farms" cease to be in-essence entirely organic?" Perhaps, "organic farms" ceased to exist when organic farm owners started using fossil fuel to ship out of season "organic fruits and vegetables" half way around the world? Or maybe "organic farming" became more of an industry and less of  a social and political statement when "organic farmers" started labeling milk as "organic" even if it was produced in factory farms where cows never get to eat grass but are milked three times  a day. Whatever spark ignited the progression from "organic agriculture" to "organic industry," Pollan is more than justified in holding a mirror up to the pastoral fairytale label of "organic" in todays completely convoluted global food economy.
eolecki's picture

Organic vs. Processed

            In reading the “Big Organic” chapter in the book I realized that I had never really questioned what “organic” actually meant.  I have come to the conclusion that it simply means not using unnatural products like chemical based pesticides or fertilizers.  However, through marketing ploys many people think of organic as completely natural, grown on a small farm, not on an industrial scale.  The entire organic market is deceiving according to Pollan’s observations and is not the wonderful alternative to processed foods we think of it as.  But putting aside the misconceptions about the organic foods market, the question of the benefit of consuming organic food to processed food arises.  Even though organic food is not as “organic” as we think, I still think it is a better alternative to processed food.  If all things were the same, price and environmental factors, who wouldn’t chose a food that had been grown without pesticides and unnatural fertilizer?  I feel that industrialized organic foods are still a superior good compared with processed foods.  The real question comes into play when considering the other factors such as the price and environmental factors.       
emily's picture

Save the Drama

I too was not surprised when reading about marketing within Whole Foods. Most people are looking for something they cannot even really define -- organic food. Whole Foods is selling an image that people want to see so I am not surprised that when stepping back and looking to where the food actually came from, there are some grey areas as to whether or not the food is "organic", as Whole Foods wholesomely states. So while I definitely believe this background information, I do think that Pollan exaggerates and uses his writing to be more dramatic with his claims, as if Whole Food's involvement in the "industrial organic complex" is a big surprise. While I have not read the chapter on vegetarians yet, from the statement posted above, I feel that Pollan is just being dramatic again. I am a vegetarian, not because of the ethical standpoint, but because I straight up do not like the taste of meat. Yes, Pollan is trying to make a point and needs to generalize to do so, but to say one's ethical position is naive is overly judgemental. If one believes that the industry treats animals cruelly, does not want to support that, and feels that by not eating meat this viewpoint is expressed, then let that person believe that. In no way can the processing, packaging, and world-wide shipping of meats and other foods come close to mimicking the "natural world".
kscire's picture

The Organic "Industry"

I can honestly say that I wasn't terribly shocked when reading the propaganda employed by some businesses to sell their products. I also found reading this section pretty ironic since I had just stepped foot in a Whole Foods for the first time less than a week ago (and loved it). At home I like to shop at the Common Market or Mom's but usually my family just goes to Giant Eagle because they get fuel perks and a decent selection. I question how big of a movement the "organic movement" is currently because I know a lot of people who are "old school" and have a lot of contempt for untraditional food and food sources. Even if there is only a small push towards less pre-packaged convenience foods and locally grown produce I think that it's a big step in the right direction.
Anonymous's picture

The Whole Foods Experience isn't all that it seems

My Whole Foods experiences are unique within this class. The Whole Foods' which I frequent most are in the middle of two very urban industrial areas, in the hearts of Wall St. and Columbus Circle. This places Whole Foods at the center of business and luxury. Between the traffic jams, the excess of lights and pollution, the location does not add to that organic feel. It makes Whole Foods seem like all of the other surrounding businesses, big and expensive.
As Michael Pollan describes the modes of transportation for the food, and the fuel used, it's not really a surprise, it's just a validation for me. I often think people just don't think about it. They're not dumb, they don't think someone milked a cow right in the store to produce their fresh milk. They just never realized that the process through which they are getting their food adds to the industry they forsake.
I have nothing against veganism or vegetarianism, I tried the latter temporarily and it didn't work out. What I'm not fond of is those people who are either and become totally self righteous, shoving their beliefs down your throat and making you feel guilty about your lifestyle choices. They speak as if they are saving all of the animals and all of the fuel. They should gain a more worldly perspective before they make such claims. While I do not agree with everything Michael Pollan says, I'm glad someone has taken the time to do the research and publish the facts about the real differences between living organically, being a vegetarian, and being a vegan.