The Omnivore’s Dilemma

by

Michael Pollan

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Themes and Colors
Nature vs. Human Intervention Theme Icon
Pleasure and Happiness Theme Icon
Compromise Theme Icon
Interconnectedness Theme Icon
Efficiency and Utility Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In his investigation of where food comes from, Michael Pollan argues that eating is a person’s most direct engagement with nature.

Nature, left to its own devices, will produce the plants and animals that humans use for food, but human intervention has inalterably changed these processes, from the agricultural development and cultivation of land and the domestication of animals to the scientific engineering of highly processed foods. The need to produce a huge volume of…

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Pollan posits happiness and pleasure as important criteria for evaluating our food choices. As he follows the book’s four food chains (industrial, large-scale organic, small-scale organic, and locally foraged) and evaluates the meals that result from each one, he often stops to take note of the pleasure generated for him and the other people and animals involved. While pleasure and happiness are inherently positive, Pollan imbues these feelings with a deeper significance, linking them both…

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As Pollan explores the four different meals in his book and the food chains that produce them, he never settles on a single definitive “right way” that things should be done. Instead, he is sensitive to the idea of compromise. With an understanding that there is no one perfect food system, he looks at the successes and failures of all four of the food chains that he writes about, comparing the compromises inherent in each…

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In tracing four different modern food chains and their resulting meals, Pollan explores the web of connections made by food. Eating, at its base level, is the intake of energy. Since we cannot directly inhale and use the energy of the sun, we rely on other organisms to process the sun’s energy and convert it into the nutrients that we can process. This entails the transfer of energy through a variety of systems, both natural…

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Because food systems are, in the end, oriented around producing commodities necessary for life, Pollan notes that an important criterion in comparing and evaluating them is their efficiency and utility, but that much of the American economy only measures this in terms of profit. This measurement requires putting on blinders to all of the system’s external effects, including its impact on the environment and public health, and even many internal effects, like the health of…

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