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The Omnivore's Dilemma

A Natural History of Four Meals

By Michael Pollan
  • Read in 16 minutes
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  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

We face an overwhelming abundance of choices when it comes to what we eat. Should you opt for the local, grass-fed beef, or save time and money with cheap chicken nuggets? Organic asparagus shipped from Argentina, or kale picked from your neighbor’s garden? The Omnivore’s Dilemma examines how food in America is produced today and what alternatives to those production methods are available.

Key idea 1 of 11

The huge number of choices available today makes it hard to decide what to eat – this is the omnivore’s dilemma.

As omnivores, we humans are capable of eating many different plants and animals. This leads to what psychologist Paul Rozin calls the “omnivore’s dilemma”: with a world of possibilities, how do we know what we should eat?

For early hunter-gatherers, solving this dilemma was very straightforward: they ate the seasonal foods that could be harvested near their homes, such as mushrooms in the fall or strawberries in the summer, and hunted game that was available in the wild. This made for a pretty uniform menu, which made choosing what to eat very easy.

Today, advancements in our ability to preserve and transport food have completely changed the way different foods are available to us. Think back to the last time you were in a supermarket. How many aisles were there? How many shelves? How many items on each shelf? Coconuts, leeks, Oreos, bacon, eggs, rice, broccoli, strawberries – the selection of food available today is mind-boggling, and you can basically have whatever you want, whenever you want it, wherever you are.

This development has exacerbated the omnivore’s dilemma, as we must now choose among countless options for each meal. Some are healthy, some are tasty, some are cheap and some are good for the environment. So exactly what should we eat?

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