Jenny wrote an excellent review of The Omnivore’s Dilemma back in June. Go read it now for some background on this fascinating, scary—and potentially life-changing—book. Now that I’ve finished listening to the audio book, I can say that heartily concur with her.
Since Jenny has covered the highlights of the book so well already, I hope you all won’t mind my sharing a few personal reflections on the topic. Over the past year, I’ve been making an effort to eat more local food—primarily fruit and vegetables. I’ve even joined a CSA! For those who don’t know, CSAs provide members with a selection of fresh produce every week or two. Members must pay up front, thereby sharing the risk with the farmer. It’s more expensive than the grocery store, but it has forced me to learn to eat some things I would never think to buy (eggplant, beets) and reintroduced me to some old favorites from when I was growing up on a Virginia farm (turnips, cabbage). Yum!
However, I’d not given much thought to the meat I eat until reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I was troubled on many levels by what Pollan had to say about the way much meat is produced in the U.S. Animals in the factory farms Pollan visited are manufactured, not born and raised. And the manufacturing process does not appear to be about raising truly healthy animals, just big ones that don’t get sick and die before they’re slaughtered.
Pollan’s discussion of Polyface Farm provides a look at what one possible answer. This Virginia farm practices sustainable, “beyond organic” farming in which the animals form a sort of mini-ecosystem. It’s an impressive model that is apparently gaining ground.
So here is the part where I gloat a little. After reading about Polyface, I decided to look into getting some local meat. I live just outside Washington, DC, and there are a handful of butchers that specialize in local, grass-fed meat and some buying clubs that bring in bulk orders from area farms. It’s similar to the CSA model, but with less commitment. And, what do you know, Polyface has a buying club in my area! I placed an order, and in a few weeks, I’ll be enjoying some Polyface chicken breasts, ham, and sausage.
Although I am excited to be finding a way to incorporate more local, sustainably grown food into my diet, I don’t know that this is the best solution for everyone. For one thing, it is expensive. Also, I’m not sure how well this model could work on a large scale. How can we produce enough food for everyone while being responsible in how we treat our animals and our land? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s a question we should all be asking.
This book was the winner of the 2006 California Book Award and the 2007 James Beard Award, so I am adding to my books read for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. Three down, seven to go!