Meat-eater, vegetarian, localvore, vegan…labels, labels, labels. But what does each mean, and what are the reasons behind an individual’s choice to take on one diet over the other, and who’s right and who’s wrong? The short answer is that, in this economy, there isn’t a right answer. Mass, industrial production brings the kind of employment and food availability that “mom and pop” farms could never provide; this type of farming also brings corruption, greed, environmental degradation, obesity, and animal cruelty. One end of the spectrum seems poisonous while the other, though trustworthy and healthy, seems laborious and unsustainable (in terms of having enough to readily eat). Is it possible to lead a healthy, environmentally conscious life filled with delicious and affordable food? And as humans – omnivores by nature (at this point in evolution) – what diet is the all-around best?
If you want to know how your meal made it’s way to your plate – no matter what kind of diet it’s categorized as – then pick up a copy of Michael Pollan’s food bible The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and take a journey through the stages of food production from [some kind of] farm to table. You’ll go to the Midwest where the only business is corn business, jet set down to a family-owned farm in Virginia, visit your local Whole Foods, and finally get back to the hunter-gatherer your ancestors once were. Pollan cooks and eats a meal from four different food chains after starting at their sources, and his investigation is not for those with a weak stomach. I recommend this book because, as I’ve found in my own dietary transitions, sometimes the labels we give ourselves cloud the ones that really matter: the ones on the food. It’s better to eat a whole, healthy meal than blindly follow trends or fads. The book is eye-opening and applicable to all kinds of eaters; if you are a true foodie, even a self-proclaimed carnivore, this is a must-read. And for those who are too antsy to know how Pollan solves his dilemma, here’s a summary* of his findings, straight from the book:
EAT REAL FOOD. BUY REAL FOOD. EAT REAL MEALS
1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or with ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce.
3. Don’t eat anything containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
4. Get your food from the outside perimeter of the supermarket and try to avoid middle aisles.
5. Don’t buy, or eat, anything that doesn’t eventually rot.
6. Shop at the farmers market, through a CSA, or at a farmstand whenever you can.
7. Be your own food detective.
10. Try not to eat alone.
11. Eat slowly and stop when you’re full.
12. Eat at the table.”