Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'm Hungry. Feed Me.--a review of THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA (Young Readers Edition) by Michael Pollan

I watched Super Size Me! back when it came out in 2004. Then, in 2006, I watched Fast Food Nation. I’ve also read an awful lot of whole-food cookbooks, so I guess you could say I’m a middle-of-the-road sort of health foodie. When it comes to eating well, it’s pretty fair to say I don’t practice what is preached. When I ordered The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan for our high school library, I didn’t realize that I had ordered the Young Readers Edition, but I’m sure glad I did. I’ve never read the official adult version of the book, but I don’t think I would have made it all the way through. The Young Readers Edition is meaty enough, and satisfying. As in the original version, Pollan walks us through the contents of four different types of meals—an industrial meal, an industrial organic meal, a local sustainable meal, and a hunted-gathered meal—filling us in on what goes on to get these various kinds of foods to our table. Helpful tables, charts and graphs accompany this edition, and help make the text more understandable to any reader.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: the Secrets Behind What You Eat (Young Readers Edition) by Michael Pollan

What I most appreciate about Pollan, besides his incredible investigative journalistic prowess, is that he never dictates what choice of conscience an eater should make. Rather, he argues that we should be informed eaters with a consciousness of what we are putting into our bodies—whether plant or animal—and how it comes to us in the first place. In a way, it kind of reminded me of the scene in Life of Pi, where young Pi, a vegetarian, is forced to eat an animal to survive, so he offers up thanks every day of his life for the animal whose death gave him life. I’m still not sure what the actual “dilemma” is, but I enjoyed the parts of the book that I did read. Some reviews suggest this book for Age 10 and up. I don’t want to sell any 10-year-olds short, but I think it might be more suitable for readers age 14 and up. It’s a pretty dense text, although younger readers might benefit from parts.

Selected Reviews

“Just as powerful as the adult edition but perfectly tuned to a young audience, this title is essential food for thought.”—Gillian Engberg, Booklist, October 2009

“This youth-friendly version of Pollan’s bestseller, with updated facts, assorted visuals and a new introduction and afterword, is as enlightening as it is accessible.”—Publisher’s Weekly, September 2009

“[Pollan] explains complicated issues clearly, offers compelling evidence of the environmental damage done by what he calls the industrial meal, and urges readers not to look away from animal-welfare issues: ‘We can only decide if we know the truth.’”—Lauralyn Persson, School Library Journal, October 2009

“Adapted by Richie Chevat for the young reader, this edition of the original bestseller is accessible and thought provoking, with black-and-white visuals that reinforce his points. Pollan’s entertaining narration will motivate socially conscious youth to vote with their forks, as he urges. Young readers—and older ones, too—will find their thinking about food forever changed.”—Marla K. Unruh, VOYA, February 2010

Ideas for Teaching

I like food, and most high school students I’ve ever met enjoy eating, too, so there are many great ways to go with this book. Pollan gives 20 pages of sources, so there’s no lack of follow-up material if you wanted to investigate this topic further with students.

It might make an interesting fiction/nonfiction pairing with The Life of Pi (Martel, Y. 2001. Knopf) for the very reason I mentioned above. It would be interesting to investigate how different cultures feel about food. I might also use it for Global Studies or Health paired with Menzel and D’Aluisio’s Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

It would also go well with Fast Food Nation or Super Size Me, if you wanted to work in a little video or two.

It’s the perfect starting point for a project with students. Students could use the journalistic techniques that Pollan did to examine their own meals.

It might work well with a charity project Heifer International highlighting sustainable farming or with Oxfam’s Hunger Banquet to raise global awareness about hunger.

Vital Stats

Pollan, Michael (2009). The Omnivore’s Dilemma: the Secrets Behind What You Eat. Young Readers Ed. New York: Dial Books. ISBN 9780803734159.

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