For years, food in one way or another has ruled my life. I’m known among friends and family for my insatiable appetite, and even many of my early memories in life are associated with what I ate rather than where I was or who I was with. I can still clearly remember the first time I had a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut: in the airport after arriving in Orlando for the first time. And therein lies my problem. I grew up craving and always asking for fast food — the delicious salt and fat were irresistible to me. But after reading Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” I feel that I’ve taken many steps in the right direction to having a healthier, more complete relationship with food.
Ever since I enrolled in Environment 201 last year, and I learned about the problems of industrial food — of which I view fast food as the pinnacle — I’ve started to think about the way I eat and the consequences it has. I’ve always known that eating McDonald’s and Wendy’s isn’t the healthiest, but I was a fit athlete. What do I care if I eat an extra 750 calories or 200mg of salt a day? But after learning about the environmental problems caused by the increasing industrialization of food, I’ve started to eat much healthier. I’d say that my diet change has been years in the making. I won’t be young and fit forever, and neither, for that matter, will the environment.
What I found interesting about “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was the detailed outline offered on the ways humans can get their food. The categories included: industrialized/processed foods, hunter/gatherer and organic farming. To be honest, a vast majority of the people I know eat almost exclusively from the first category. I’ve never seen my mom go outside to pick mushrooms or berries for her daily salad. It’s just so much more convenient to drive to Meijer and by pre-packaged and harvested ones. Unless a person lives in the middle of a lush rain forest and knows what foods are safe to eat, the second option of foraging for your own food is laughably unlikely. The days when a person spent all day outside to catch, find and pick enough food to sustain themselves are long over — in this country at least. While I enjoyed reading about this method, I know that it isn’t realistic enough to fit into my life. Sure, if I’m camping, and I find some wild raspberries, I’ll eat them. But I don’t go camping enough for that to change my life.
The last option, organic farming, is another option that’s tricky. With companies across the world jumping on this trend, saying their products are “natural,” “organic” and “environmentally-friendly,” it’s hard to figure out what’s really healthy and what’s just trying to make a quick profit. Another problem is the industrialization of organic farming. This process, developed to make organic food more readily available to the masses, is just the same we’ve seen with the fast food revolution. It’s another way of taking something pure and healthy and bastardizing it to make money. No, I don’t think eating — often over-priced — organic food is the best option for myself or for omnivores in general. But if you live on an organic farm and can make your own food, by all means do so.
So my journey from starting college two and half years ago and reading this book over the past month has led me to a very enlightening conclusion: Use your head and be as personal with your food as possible. It may not be the biggest epiphany the world has seen, but it’s done wonders for me. What I mean by this is that you should embrace the positives in all options: the convenience of industrialization, the health and simplicity from real organic farming and the personal touch from foraging. How do I plan to do this? It’s simple. I’m planning on grocery shopping for myself — as well as purchasing food from the Ann Arbor Farmers Market — buying fresh meats and produce whenever possible and preparing my own meals. Reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is actually a big reason why I plan to live outside the dorms next year — I want more control over what I’m eating. I think this is a plan that will work for me and help me lead a healthier life. But most importantly, it’s something I can actually follow. And that’s more than can be said for someone planning to forage in the Arb for berries and mushrooms.
Matthew Shutler is an LSA junior.