This book chronicles four meals, tracked from the production of the food through to the preparation and consumption of the meals themselves. The first is a fast food meal eaten in the car, the quintessential American meal consisting entirely of industrially farmed produce. Pollan then goes on to have an industrial-organic meal, an organic pasture-grown meal, and finally a meal containing only products that he foraged, hunted, and cultivated himself. Throughout, he looks closely at how economic and commercial values have supplanted ecological ones in the cultivation and production of the food we ingest. In addition to attending to the social and political dimensions of the American diet, Pollan also notes the effects of this diet on public health, from rising levels of obesity through to the antibiotic resistances developing in herds of cattle living in pens in their own manure.


This book is an entrancing treatise on what we eat and why we eat the way we do. Pollan writes with clarity and wit, but also carefully and thoughtfully; this is not a jeremiad, even if one is left with the feeling that - as someone mouthed to me from across a room when she saw that I had pulled out my copy of this book - corn is evil. As is apparent in cross-cultural comparisons to fat-rich French diets or oil-rich Meditteranean diets, diets are more influenced by history, tradition, and culture than food pyramids. It is curious that in (broadly speaking) American culture, food is so closely linked to public health with innumerable fads, diets, vitamin-augmented products, etc., and yet the food that we consume is largely produced with such disdain for public health principles and with such severe public health consequences.

Pollan explores this very paradox, finding psychological, cultural, scientific, evolutionary and, prominently, economic and political explanations for this situation. Processed cheese and diet colas made almost entirely from corn-products are the result of genetic engineering, incredible technologies, but also impoverished families - and farmers - whose meals are subsidized by the money that the government pumps into petroleum and corn subsidies. It is a book that very much situates public health in a broader context; it is also a book that, like the meals he describes, is a pleasure to indulge.


This book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award.


Penguin Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count