Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma Part 4

The final meal prepared by author Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma is hunted and gathered. Upon moving to Northern California, he connects with some folks who still understand the woods and the wild. So Pollan embarks on a pig hunt, becoming the predator in a food chain that starts with oak trees that take energy from the sun to produce acorns which the wild pigs feast upon. He also hunts for mushrooms, adding fungi into the mix.

Pollan gathered cherries in Berkeley and some wild greens from the surrounding hills. He made sourdough bread using yeast from the air itself, which I'd never heard of doing -- simply exposing the dough mixture to air through an open window. The yeast spores are everpresent, apparently.

It was fascinating to contemplate the evolution of the original hunter/gatherer humans, their diets changing as they moved from treetops to savanah and then on to fertile deltas where crops could be grown, and then animals domesticated for consumption. The rise of seed corn as a commodity in the 20th century saw huge increases in the planet's population. By the end of the 20th century, cheap processed food fed the poorest of the poor, while the wealthy began looking for "organics" and "alternative food sources." Pollan hints that of the two species -- corn and homo sapiens, the former may be the real driving force of nature.

One thing is for sure -- there are many more dilemmas involved in eating than one suspects. Most of us engage in rather mindless eating without doing much thinking about the where and the how of the food that is before us. The Omnivore's Dilemma is a must read!

1 comment:

microdot said...

Last year, I got myself involved in helping an elderly neighbor kill the pig. I made myself endure it. It's a part of the life here. The race is a big black pig called a cul noir...literally black ass. They are very prized in this part of the Dordogne and the Limousin. I won't describe the process, but after the initial trauma, I was kind of proud of myself.
I assisted in all the stages of preparation down to the meat grinder for the sausage. I really learned a lot. I also got a nice supply of canned pate that I helped prepare.
I really want to get a hold of the Pallan book as it seems to address a lot of issues that I am interested in. I consider myself knowlegable in regard to wild mushrooms, I started collecting them in Ohio and Michigan, then in New York in the Palisades. I do spore prints, but I never really collect anything that isn't immediately identifiable as delicious and simple. Now I am in a mushroom lovers paradise. The freezer is full of bags of this autumns girolles, pied de mouton and the record breaking abundance of cepes! I used to make sourdough by the method you speak of...that's how it is done. Natural fermentation which you keep adding to. People keep their starter cultures for years, constantly renewing. You can give some of your starter to someone else and they can have their own starter descended from yours. Recently, I sent a piece of vinegar mother to my nephew in Thailand so he could make wine vinegar. Vinegar starts much the same way. The organism is in the air and starts a culture in the fermenting fruit juice or wine . I love looking at catalogues for seed companies that specialize in heirloom vegetables. There is such an abundance of varieties that are being quickly lost because of the standardization of agricultural practices. We go to a Festival of Old fashioned vegetables in a place called La Chappele St. Jean each year where they are displayed and the seeds are sold.
The cultural difference in the attitudes about food are profound between the America I know and rural France. Here there is an obsession with food, people converse all the time of food and how it is prepared. Quality is all important. The major expenditure of a French Family is food.
The kids are all pretty healthy looking. Eating is still a family activity. In this area alone, in a rather small population, we have 23 people over 100 years old.
People eat a lot when they sit down and workers have a prodigious appetite, but you eat when it's time. Snacking is still an alien idea. I ran a bed and breakfast in our old house for a few years and we had a lot of Americans who would want to eat with us (an option) but always at the start of every meal go into a litany of guilt over the butter, the cream, the this was goiing to ruin their diet, ot croissants were DEATH! Then after they left and we werecleaning the room, the ugly truth would reveal itself, trash cans crammed with cookie boxes, candy wrappers and snacks of all sorts under the bed.