In my blog series on Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma I digested the book, with an emphasis on the Christian perspective, as reader who is not an expert on nutrition, the environment, the economy, or agriculture.
Like Pollan, I also went on my own food adventure. Mimicking his journey, I also decided to meditate on eating an industrial meal, a supermarket meal, a locally organic natural meal, and a wild meal. I tried to mimic his as much as possible, but I didn’t have the time or the budget to match his precision with all four meals. I tried, and for purpose of reflection and comparison. There’s no point in reading a non-fiction book unless we incorporate it into action, and this sequence is the beginning of my action.
My Industrial Meal: State park junk
My industrial meal was ironically eaten in a park on a lake. Pollan ate McD’s while driving. I ate
two chili dogs with nacho cheese
a high fructose corn syrup popsicle
It was good. And by that I mean after swimming on a lake in the sun having a dog ready is always good. The hot dog wasn’t even worth it, especially with the poor choice of one of the worst cheeses in existence: that nacho cheese that drips from a heated foil bag that’s been running for three hours. The pretzel was not special either, and the popsicle would have been worthless without the “bits of real strawberries”. There was taste to it all, but the dog and pretzel I chewed quickly because I was more interested in getting it down than tasting it. And this wasn’t too different than most other industrial meals I’ve had. You don’t really enjoy this food. You might enjoy the novelty of it at a park, just like if you strip away the “Happy Meal” simulation McD’s is nothing to smile about.
My Supermarket Pastoral Meal
This is the meal I’ve been eating more of recently, so I must choose one: A sandwich from Panera Bread, the premiere fast casual cafe restaurant (now Chipotle shares the same seat—also, go here for how to pronounce “chipotle”, even though some scholars maintain that even my pronunciation is wrong). I worked at Panera Bread, so I had some insight. In fact, I even saw some changes take place, including a move from chicken sliced the day of to chicken pre-sliced in a bag arriving at the store. Let’s look at the average sandwich combo. We’re focusing not so much on calories and fat, but natural-ness of the content. For example, Panera foods contain no trans fats.
One of Panera’s mottoes is “Live consciously; eat deliciously.” This past summer they’ve advertised with quotes from 19th century authors like Emily Dickinson, H.D. Thoreau, R.W. Emerson, and Walt Whitman, all of whom contributed to a pastoral narrative for the American landscape during their tenure as living, celebrated artists.
The chicken—Antibiotic free and growth hormone free, but not necessarily free on a range. They are exposed to open air, but their controlled diet of corn and soybeans without antibiotics, they argue, makes a true free range implausible. Also, the chickens are likely given GM (genetically modified) soy. If you’re going to be a restaurant chain serving chicken items daily, this may be the best you can do.
The bread—Baked the morning of, but made from a refrigerated starter. And, like some other products they serve, Panera’s bread is not truly organic because it is made with GM (genetically modified) ingredients. Their whole wheat bread is also not really whole wheat because it uses enriched flour, making it partially white bread.
The tomato—They don’t tell us the story of their tomatoes (although employees are treated to a story of their coffee, which focuses much on the humanitarian treatment of workers, but much on the coffee growth process).
An apple—Not sliced up for you and put in a bag full of preservatives to keep it looking fresh past its actual rot-date like MacDonald’s. Great choice for a side.
The sweet tea—Water, sugar, and tea. To be safe, get water. They unfortunately sell coke products, but you have a choice.
I could only find out so much information. Like at a grocery store, some of Panera’s items are organic, some are not. The yogurt is organic, for example.
p.s. Here’s Panera’s hidden menu full of items you can order. In some places, you can order.
My Local Organic Meal: A Roaming Chicken
We’ve been buying farm raised eggs from a friend. Eggs are one thing you can easily tell a difference with. They’re fluffier, fuller, stiffer, and almost taste cheesy. But what about a whole chicken? We bought a whole chicken from this couple too. I can’t compare the taste to superstore bought chickens, since it was the first time I remember tasting a chicken cooked the way it was. But I can say that it was excellent. The meat tasted like real chicken, had a variable color and consistency. It was healthy too, but not too fatty.
The chicken we had with squash we grew in our garden, which we treated with nothing and grew in gardening soil mixed with human skin cells (from the vacuum cleaner), rotted fruit peels, and a helping of dog poop. That may or may not violate some principles, but I can say it was extremely local, non-GMO, pesticide free, farmed without tractors, and “shipped” without cars. We sauteed the squash; it was good.
My Wild Meal: Fish and berries? Or locust and honey?
Hunting was out of the picture for the time being, so I chose fishing. I caught a bar jack, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, vertigo, and hallucinations. Asians and Pacific Islanders are more susceptible, and can display symptoms of MS. So I had to throw her back. I also caught a stingray, but so had someone else earlier, and so I really somehow caught the knotted line trailing from his mouth. He snapped away, and I doubt I could have skinned a stingray without it smacking me and slipping away. No wild fish for dinner, but I can say I at least caught them (although according to fisherman tradition it’s not really caught ’til you’ve skinned it).
As for a side dish, although not with the fish, I did pick berries from a vine, and though not wild, they were organic. In truth, it’s not wild if it’s cultivated.
And I guess the meat replacement of crickets doesn’t count either. I ate them dried and powdered with salt and vinegar from a box.
Perhaps the only thing that counts is wild honeysuckle.
So there you have it: locust and honey.
If I’d only worn my fir and leather belt.
So although I did not successfully catch a meal, my isolated fishing experience helped me to gain a greater appreciation for the work it takes to obtain good food. I recommend everyone go hunting, fishing, or scavenging for food at least once in their life.