Tyler Cowen in Slate:
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, food writer and UC-Berkeley professor Michael Pollan examines three American food supply chains: the industrial, which encompasses factory farming and supermarkets; the organic, which includes family farms and other small-scale producers; and what he calls “the hunter-gatherer” food supply chain, which we experience when scavenging for ourselves.
Pollan explains in satisfying detail how American food production, once sun-based, became fossil-fuel based: Instead of using the sun to grow grass to feed cows, we now use fossil fuels to process corn into feed for pigs and cows—and to process corn into feed for humans. (Corn syrup shows up in everything from ice cream to loaves of bread; other corn derivatives are used as binders, emulsifiers, and sweeteners, typically for canned, frozen, and packaged goods.) As a result, Pollan argues, food is much cheaper and more plentiful than it used to be, but our health, the environment, and animals have suffered.
Pollan’s book becomes less satisfying, however, when he sets out to answer the question: How should a responsible person eat in the modern world?