Essay: Omnivore's Dilemma: Human Eating Habits

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Omnivore's Dilemma

Michael Pollan's award-winning expose of human eating habits is effective not just because of its poignant content but also in the author's rhetorical strategies. The Omnivore's Dilemma details agro-business and its impact on American consumption habits. In the first of three parts, Pollan focuses on industrial food including the fast food industry. The fast food industry is an extension of agro-business, Pollan points out. Pollan begins Chapter 7 of The Omnivore's Dilemma with "The meal at the end of the industrial food chain that begins in an Iowa cornfield is prepared by McDonalds and eaten in a moving car," (109). Deftly incorporating vivid imagery and personal anecdotes is one of Pollan's most admirable rhetorical strategies. His personal stories, coupled with strong descriptors create a persuasive text. However, Pollan's "The Meal: Fast Food" chapter is neither self-indulgent nor superficial. The author bases all his inferences on factual data including the ingredients in McDonald's meals. By weaving first-hand personal experience with objective critical analysis, Michael Pollan offers a scathing critique of the American fast food industry.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is not just about fast food, though. In fact, only the first section of the book is about capitalist food enterprise. The second section also delves into the impact of capitalism on the food industry. Only, in part two Pollan points out the inconsistencies of a business model built on non-localized organic food production. Although organic farming certainly represents an improvement over agri-business, even the organic food industry becomes a tool of the petroleum industry in order to get products to market. In the final section of the book, "Personal: The Forest," Pollan undergoes a fascinating experiment in hunting and gathering his own food: what the author calls "the meal at the end of the shortest food chain of all," (277).

At the other end of the spectrum is what can arguably be called the longest food chain of all: the chemical manipulation of corn products to create food additives and preservatives for the fast food industry. The fast food industry is profitable, but at the expense of expensive health care procedures that remedy the ill-effects of consuming soulless food from McDonalds. McDonald's meals are so far removed from their source material as to become shadows of food. As Pollan puts it, a chicken McNugget is "more like an abstraction than a full-fledged food, and idea of chicken waiting to be fleshed out," (112). What went into the chicken McNugget is shocking, and Pollan details the thirty-eight ingredients of what one New York judge referred to as "McFrankensteinian," (cited by Pollan 112).

Those thirty-eight ingredients represent the gaping chasm between the American consumer and the sources of American food. A chicken McNugget contains some chicken, yes. Yet even that chicken is a product of the corn industry: an animal feeding off of overproduced corn in Iowa. When Pollan details the organic farming industry in part two of The Omnivore's Dilemma, he finds a similar gap between source and table. For instance, Rosie the "organic free-range chicken" was far from free range, and organic only in the sense that Rosie ate organic corn (Pollan 169). Pollan suggests that in spite of the lofty intentions of consumers, eating organic chicken is only incrementally more ethical than eating McNuggets. The organic food industry, when it reaches the scale of capitalist enterprise, is a "contradiction in terms," (Pollan 183).

Still, the "grass fed" meal that Pollan recounts in Chapter Fourteen is palpably different from the fast food one he and his family ate in Chapter Seven. The main reason for the visceral difference between fast food and grass fed is Pollan's persuasive writing: his use of visual imagery and illustrations and his down-to-earth language that engages readers without any jargon. However, Pollan also visits food industry businesses ranging from McDonalds to Whole Foods. He lists quantitative data such as prices, costs of production, statistics, and the long chemical names for the ingredients in a chicken McNugget.

The argument that Pollan makes about fast food in Chapter Seven does not include the philosophical elements the author raises later when he discusses animal sentience and animal rights. Pollan reserves his core arguments related to vegetarianism later in the book, where he thoroughly analyzes vegetarianism from multiple points-of-view.

However, Pollan understands that by the time a person deigns to eat at McDonald's, the decision of whether or not to eat a chicken is moot. To insert a vegetarian argument as early as the first chapter would unnecessarily… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Omnivore's Dilemma: Human Eating Habits.  (2009, April 23).  Retrieved November 12, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/omnivore-dilemma-human-eating-habits/25449

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"Omnivore's Dilemma: Human Eating Habits."  23 April 2009.  Web.  12 November 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/omnivore-dilemma-human-eating-habits/25449>.

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"Omnivore's Dilemma: Human Eating Habits."  Essaytown.com.  April 23, 2009.  Accessed November 12, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/omnivore-dilemma-human-eating-habits/25449.