Journey to the garlic dilemma

Thanks to Megan and Nancy, I’ve had a bunch of awesome books to read lately. Three of these were The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, and Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma
I loved this book. A lot of people get bored in the middle when he spends page after page talking about the intricacies of the industrial food chain, but I remained mostly fascinated throughout, and couldn’t put it down towards the end. For those unfamiliar with the book, Michael Pollan essentially embarks on a journey to learn about where food comes from. To do this, he visits a cornfield in Iowa, a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) where they raise cattle for slaughter, a sustainable polyculture farm, and the wild outdoors. He learns that everything we eat comes from corn in some way or another, and learns about the consequences – environmental, health, financial, moral – of the way our food, both plant and animal, is raised. He learns to rotate cattle and chickens on the farm, to kill chickens, and to hunt and forage. He wrestles with the philosophy behind vegetarianism. It’s all quite thought-provoking and written engagingly. At least for me, I’ve always had a foolish and romantic desire to work on a farm and live off the land, so reading Michael Pollan’s descriptions of his experiences only stoked that desire more.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
I’ve always had the impression that books written “back then” are stuffy or boring to read. But Jules Verne’s story is such a fun ride I barely noticed it was written more than 100 years ago! Told from the point of view of Axel, a young man more or less forced onto what seems like a preposterous undertaking by his pretty much crazy uncle, the book keeps you hooked with lively dialogue, cheeky commentary (through the thoughts of Axel) and a plot that keeps you curious what will happen next, and what fate will ultimately befall our poor protagonist. Impressively, Journey also treads very well that fine line of science fiction – enough science (or sciencey talk) to keep you wondering just how much is fiction. But at some point it just doesn’t matter because you’re so caught up in the story!

Garlic and Sapphires
This is an autobiographical account of a popular food writer’s experiences as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. In order to do her job, Ruth Reichl has to adopt a number of disguises, most of them ridiculous, with usually amusing, sometimes shocking, and always interesting results. It’s a fascinating romp through Manhattan’s food culture as well as a commentary on identity, relationships, and being true to yourself. Reichl writes in a way that makes you feel as if you are right alongside her as she comes into her own as a NYT critic, pretends to be different people, navigates the rocky waters of media and power in Manhattan, and slowly realizes that she is losing parts of herself because of what she does. The book is warming and uplifting as well as educational.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend all three books, and especially Omnivore or Garlic if you are into food at all!


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