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Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is a nonfiction text that highlights the author’s findings regarding the American eating habits, food varieties, organic and industrial farming. Pollan begins his inquiry by asking a common question in America’s households. The question raises a concern about what a family should have for dinner” (Pollan 1). Based on the question, Pollan discusses the dilemma facing many American households given many food varieties that make it difficult them to decide what to eat for dinner. Pollan asserts that in the past, culture moderated the eating habits and the relationship between the society and food. With the erosion of various cultural practices and advanced technologies that have availed many food varieties, Americans have found themselves confused regarding the food they should eat.
The dilemma that consumers face emanate from having many choices of food varieties. However, Pollan finds out that even food production and processing methods should worry the consumers since these methods affect the quality of food that people and animals consume. Pollan asserts that the much-hyped organic farming is a hoax since it involves industrial activities. He compares local organic farming and industrial organic farming and comes into conclusion that the two are unrealistic in the US. Pollan criticizes the food processing activities that take place in the US. The author claims that the processing of foods makes both local and industrial organic farming processing lose their meaning. Pollan asserts that the information that consumers access from the food stores further continues to confuse them regarding their choice for dinner. He accuses producers and retailers of collusion to portray foods as organic even when they have been processed. Based on Pollan’s comparison between local organic farming and industrial organic farming practices, it is apparent that the former has more advantages than the latter. However, he presents the topic in a way that shows that the two methods have limitations that further confuse the consumers.
Pollan’s view of local organic farming is that such farming entails growing local foods and keeping local livestock in a way that the farmer does not need to buy processed feeds and farm products (124). A farmer engaged in this farming does not need to travel for long distances to look for farm feeds or deliver his products but he sources his products locally and uses them to support the ecosystem in his farm. Pollan’s view is that local organic farming completes the cycle in an ecosystem in that the farmer grows food that feeds the animals while he uses the animals to get manure for his farm.
By getting energy, manure and animal feed from a farm, a local organic farmer contributes to the sustainability of the ecology and local food products. Pollan gives the example of Joel Salatin, who operates a mid-sized meat farm in Virginia. Salatin contributes to the sustainability of the ecosystem in his farm by cultivating natural grass that he uses to feed his cows. Pollan describes Salatin’s farm “as a classical pastoral beauty” (124). By managing a pastoral pasture in his farm, Salatin is keen in showcasing the beauty and the advantages of local organic farming. Salatin’s contribution to the continuity of the ecosystem is seen in that the sun provides the grass with energy to grow and the farmer uses the grass to feed the cows. In turn, the cows produce manure for the grass and larvae to feed the chicken. Interestingly, the chicken produce nitrogen that is required to grow the grass.
Another advantage of the local organic farming is that it utilizes local inputs since it does not require injection of fossil fuels. Pollan asserts that farmers need to grow grass to feed livestock that feed people or grow food that serves the same purpose (130). Local organic farmers utilize organically grown grass and foods to feed their localities. Interestingly, a majority of these farmers do not supply their foods to far towns and urban centers. Pollan indicates that Salatin, a local organic farmer only sells his products to the neighbors (124). Therefore, organic farmers do not need to invest in fossil fuels to grow their grass or crops. Since these farmers do not transport their food and animal products to far areas, they do not need to invest in vans that use fossil fuels. According to Ciccarese and Silli, organic farming methods have a “low demand for energy, input chemicals and water” (62). Local organic farming ensures that the soil does not contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane.
However, there are concerns that failure to use fossil energy in local organic farming contributes to low yields. Ciccarese and Silli indicate that organic soils that are cultivated using organic techniques have lower yields compared to soils that are cultivated using mechanized methods (61). Thus, local organic farmers are required to cultivate large tracts of land to get similar yields as industrial organic farmers that cultivate in smaller pieces of land. Pollan indicates that since the local farmers such as Salatin do not use fossil energy, they may need to increase the acreage of their farms to boost their yields (131). However, the long-term productivity of soils that are cultivated using organic techniques makes the issue of lower yields negligible among local organic farmers. Pollan learns that the local organic farming is a sustainable approach that focuses on enhancing the sustainability and productivity of the grass, animals and consumers (127). In essence, lower demand for energy in organic farming ensures that the farmer stays in business for long compared to the industrial organic farmer.
From a nutritional point of view, the food products that are grown using local organic methods are considered to have a better quality compared to foods produced using industrial production techniques. Pollan asserts that even when organic industrial farmers claim that their products are free from calories and chemicals, the fuels used to cultivate and take them to the market contributes to the deterioration of the health of the consumers (132). Mechanized agriculture lowers the sustainability of crops and animals since it leads to emission of gasses that later affect the food and animals that people consume. On the other hand, food grown using the local techniques is nutritional and safe for the consumers since it does not come into contact with emissions from fossil fuels. Pollan asserts that expanding the food chain of “organic foods to American supermarkets and fast-food joints can compromise their ideals” since such expansion will require the use of energy that affects people, food, and animals (133). According to Ciccarese and Silli, foods grown using organic approaches have “higher antioxidant compounds” compared to food grown using industrial approaches (60). However, of mechanized organic farming argue that they try to improve their yields and not the quality of the crops that they grow.
Regarding the advantages of industrial organic farming, Pollan asserts that producing food using local and pastoral techniques may not feed the growing population (129). He refers to the hunter-gatherers and how they obtained their food without using industrial methods. Although Pollan agrees with the assertion that hunter-gatherers had access to many food sources, he asserts that their population was small compared to today’s population. Although Pollan agrees with the research finding that organic foods are more nutritional than the conventional foods, he asserts that the former cannot be used to feed a larger population (126). Based on Salatin’s case, the fact the farmer only sells to his neighbors is an indication that organic food is not enough to feed a region. Pollan asserts that pastoral forests cannot be enough to sustain organic farming and therefore, industrial farming becomes an option to feed the nation.
According to Simonne et al., the need to certify land for organic farming makes it difficult to invest in the farming this technique (3). As a result, farmers are left with the option of cultivating conventional foods. Simonne et al. assert that the food concerns that people raise concerning industrial farming are not supported by enough literature (4). The authors call for further studies to establish the health effects of organic foods that are grown through conventional techniques. Simonne et al. assert that there are few “health benefits from consuming organic foods” (4). Pollan cites the many mysteries that relate to the question of the nutritional value of the organic foods (179). He claims that even the people that consume organic foods experience health complications. The need to establish the chemical compounds that causes diseases necessitates the call for further research on the health implications of the organic foods.
Interestingly, as Pollan concludes, it is difficult to have organic food alone in the American stores (187). Also, conventional foods alone cannot satisfy the needs of the consumers. Pollan’s view anchors on the concept of consumer preferences. Since consumers prefer different foods, they demand what suits them, and that shows that they can either buy organic or conventional foods (Simonne et al. 3). Pollan argues that proponents of local organic farming lie by claiming that they get their food from pasture-like environments (139). Also, the conventional farmers do not entirely rely on machines and fossil fuels to get energy for their farms. In essence, the two farming methods complement each other. The marketing initiatives that companies have adopted in labeling foods as natural have contributed to consumer’s dilemma since people may not establish the quality of foods based on the production techniques (Pollan 139). Thus, even with alternative farming methods, the consumer continues to get confused when shopping.
The ecological balance and nutritional value associated with local organic foods are indications that organic farming is more advantageous than conventional farming. Based on Pollan’s assertions, the fact that local organic farmers do not rely on energy from fossil fuels is an indication that their foods are healthy. However, failure to use energy and chemicals in organic farming is associated with low yields compared to the conventional farming. Given the higher yields associated with conventional farming, its approaches have been cited ways of feeding the world through mass production of organic products. Given the safety concerns associated with conventional foods, it is apparent that industrial farming techniques are more disadvantageous compared to local organic farming approaches.
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