The Omnivore’s Dilemma


Michael Pollan

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The Omnivore’s Dilemma Characters

Michael Pollan

The author and first-person narrator of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan is an accomplished writer on topics relating to food and the natural world. He is popular for writing in an accessible and entertaining way… read analysis of Michael Pollan

Joel Salatin

The spunky, libertarian farmer who runs Polyface Farms in Virginia, Salatin hosts Michael Pollan on his farm and expounds an almost spiritual belief in the purity and righteousness of his methods. Calling his farm “beyond… read analysis of Joel Salatin

George Naylor

Naylor runs the farm in Iowa that Pollan visits to learn about industrially-farmed corn. Naylor’s farm, which was passed down to him from his grandfather, contributes to the region’s giant supply of corn (which… read analysis of George Naylor

Gene Kahn

The founder of Cascadian Farms in Washington state. Kahn began Cascadian Farms as a small family farm in 1971 as part of the original organic movement, and he later sold the farm to General Mills… read analysis of Gene Kahn

Drew and Myra Goodman

The founders of Earthbound farms, which began in the 1980s as a small plot and roadside stand in California. The Goodmans scaled up as the demand for packaged lettuce boomed, and they later industrialized and… read analysis of Drew and Myra Goodman
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Paul Rozin

The research psychologist at The University of Pennsylvania who first coined the phrase “the omnivore’s dilemma” in 1976 with his paper entitled “The Selection of Foods by Rats, Humans, and Other Animals.” Rozin… read analysis of Paul Rozin

Fritz Haber

The winner of a 1920 Nobel Prize, Haber invented the process of “fixing” nitrogen, or making free-floating nitrogen in the atmosphere usable to grow crops. This vastly increased agricultural productivity and allowed the world’s population… read analysis of Fritz Haber

Steer number 534

Michael Pollan purchases this steer (a neutered male cow) to track through his life cycle in the industrial agricultural system, from South Dakota to Kansas. Pollan chooses him for his distinctive markings, and follows him… read analysis of Steer number 534


The organic Petaluma Poultry chicken that Michael Pollan follows from the farm to Whole Foods and cooks in his second meal. Purported to be free-range, Rosie and her fellow chickens live in an industrial shed… read analysis of Rosie

Sir Albert Howard

An English agronomist who wrote influential treatises on agriculture, pointing out the complexity inherent in natural systems and the problems with reducing growth to a simple fertilizer formula in large-scale farming. He warned against the… read analysis of Sir Albert Howard

Earl Butz

The Secretary of Agriculture under Richard Nixon, Earl Butz abolished the New Deal system that had kept corn’s quantity and price relatively stable through loans and buyback deals with farmers. Butz engineered a huge… read analysis of Earl Butz

Bev Eggleston

The food marketer who works with Joel Salatin, selling foods from Polyface Farms to local farmers’ markets. He argues to Michael Pollan that most food prices do not reflect the true cost of food… read analysis of Bev Eggleston

Peter Singer

Philosopher and author of Animal Liberation, which argues on behalf of animals’ rights on the grounds that principles of human equality should logically extend to animals. Michael Pollan takes the book to a steakhouse… read analysis of Peter Singer
Minor Characters
Angelo Garro
Originally from Sicily, Garro is passionate about food and seeks to recreate the foods and flavors from his native country in Northern California. Pollan enlists Garro’s expert help in foraging and hunting for his last meal, ultimately finding mushrooms in nature and hunting pigs.
Ed and Rich Blair
The owners of Blair Farms, where steer number 534 was born.
Dr. Mel Metzin
The veterinarian at Poky Feeders, where Michael Pollan visits steer number 534 as he is being fed and fattened. Metzin explains to Pollan the harm done to cows’ digestive systems by feeding them a corn-based diet instead of grass.
J. I. Rodale
The founder of Organic Gardening and Farming magazine, which was popular in the 1970s. Rodale chose the term “organic” and greatly influenced the countercultural movement against industrial food.
Wendell Berry
A writer who inspired Michael Pollan, particularly with his claim that “eating is an agricultural act.” This led Pollan to consider the many other ways in which eating constitutes an engagement with the rest of the world and a decisive act with far-reaching consequences.
Allen Shainsky
The founder of Petaluma Poultry, which produces a variety of chicken types, including kosher and organic. They make only tiny adjustments to produce each type of chicken, while largely following the same formula.
Teresa Salatin
Joel Salatin’s wife.
Rachel Salatin
Joel Salatin and Teresa Salatin’s eighteen-year-old daughter.
An intern for Joel Salatin on Polyface Farms.
An intern for Joel Salatin on Polyface Farms.
Art Salatin
Joel Salatin’s brother, who delivers Polyface Farms foods to surrounding restaurants. The chefs have a strong appreciation for the quality of Salatin’s food, and the local network is an important support network for the farm.
Jean-Pierre and Richard
They hunt for pigs with Garro and Pollan.
Anthony Tassinello
A chef who takes Pollan morel-hunting, which is a sensitive activity since most morel-hunters like to keep their locations secret.
Paulie Porcini
a professional mushroom hunter who joins the hunt with Pollan and Tassinello.
Judith Belzer
Michael Pollan’s wife.
Isaac Pollan
Michael Pollan and Judith Belzer’s son, age eleven when the book was written.