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The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, was recommended to me somewhat randomly by a colleague, off of a general discussion about the lunch we were eating. I ordered it on a whim off of Amazon, and after receiving it, looking at the cover, I wasn’t particularly excited about the impulsive purchase I had made. By the time I was 150 pages in, I was overwhelmed with new information, terrified by some of the problems presented in the book, and inspired to do something (which partly led to the impulse to create this site). Among the most notable/thought-provoking ideas in the book are:

CORN
In the first section of the book, where Pollan describes how “industrial” food is created, he spends a good deal of the section discussing the evolution of corn in American food and how it has become a staple of many processed foods, which makes up a significant part of the average American’s diet. This may be less of a surprise to observant Jews who, every year around this time, become very aware of the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup in foods to observe Passover, but the resources, efforts and culture devoted to growing corn were still remarkably and clearly outlined. The most interesting part of the section to me was not specifically about corn, but rather the artificial nitrates used in fertilizer for corn. Nitrates in nature are basically a closed system; since nitrogen is so stable, creating new nitrates only happens in extreme circumstances, ie lightening striking. But, in the early 20th century, a (Jewish!) scientist named Fritz Haber figured out how to artificially synthesize nitrates, thus breaking open the system, and things haven’t been the same since. Who knows what the effects of changing the chemical composition of our world are/will be?

AWESOME RELIGIOUS SUSTAINABLE FARMERS
In the second section of the book, Pollan visits a sustainable, organic farm-organization called Polyface Farms, run by a man named Joel Satalin. Satalin’s rants/insights are among the most entertaining and insightful parts of the book, and he masterfully synthesizes strong beliefs in individualism, libertarianism, sustainability and faith into a fascinating world view. In addition to tearing down any illusions I had about what “organic food” really is and made me appreciate the thought and effort put into running a sustainable system, I was also struck by Satalin’s religion. Though not a fanatic, Satalin’s faith is a key part of his outlook and, though he is not Jewish, I felt a resonance, and a hope that perhaps a similarly Jewish project might not be so impossible.

PIGS
In the last section of the book, Pollan sets out to create the perfect meal; by his criteria, this means a relatively tasty and nutritious meal made up exclusively of foods that he has grown/gathered himself. Not only does this include more typical items such as vegetables from his garden, but also more exotic components such as wild boar that he hunts himself (apparently, this is doable in California…gotta love it). The striking part of this for me was that Pollan is, in fact, a Jew, something that he refers to a couple of times in the book. To see any type of non-kosher item prepared by a Jew in a “perfect” meal would be striking to me; to include pork is almost comical. To me, this speaks to the importance of this blog. It must be possible to find a synthesis combining the values that Pollan espouses without totally ignoring Jewish tradition and heritage, and while I have nothing but the utmost respect for Pollan and his work, I certainly hope that this is but the first step in the process of finding an environmentally sustainable Judaism.

Overall, a highly recommended read to gain tons more information about what you’re eating, where it comes from, what it might mean, and how you can begin to do something about it.

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