Sunday, November 21, 2010

Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

JP and I both have food allergies.  Thus, we tend to obsess a little over food - where does it come from, how is it processed, is nutritious, and so on.  So I was very excited a couple of years ago to pick up Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  But, I got about halfway through the book and had to put it down.  It was getting a bit too heavy and gross.  A couple of my other mom friends and I had been trying to read it together and maybe only one of us got all of the way through it....but, we all seem to have changed our habits, at least a little, as a result of whatever portions we did read.

Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

THEN....I was walking through a big-box book store and spotted a purple book with fun, bright fruit on the cover.  It was Omnivore's Dilemma - the YOUNG reader version!  WooHoo!!!!  I bought it and read it in just a couple of days.  I then set it aside with all of the homeschooling materials JP wasn't quite ready for and sort of forgot about it.

Two weeks ago, I pulled the book back out and JP and I began to go through it.  At first we went through a few chapters together but eventually JP wanted to read on his own, so he could read it FASTER because it was so INTERESTING!  He often forgot what page he was supposed to read to and went far beyond (which is fine by me!).  But, I didn't stop with just the book...

Omnivore's Dilemma - Young Readers Edition


To make the information in Omnivore's Dilemma have a more direct relationship to our eating lives, I created a few activities for JP.  These could be stand alone projects, but tied to the book, they seem to really have a greater impact.  I encourage you to read this book with your kids (JP is 12, just for reference) and use it as a jumping off point to discuss your eating habits, grocery habits, what's at the local store and more.

Our projects:
* Go through the kitchen cupboards, fridge, and freezer and create a list of everything containing a corn ingredient (Pollan provides a list of chemical names that are actually corn ingredients).  Did you think there would be more or less on your list?  How do you think your list might compare to your neighbor's or a friend's?

* Head to the grocery store with pencil and paper (a clipboard is a good idea too!).  Make three columns on your paper:  MY STATE, MY COUNTRY, OTHER COUNTRIES.  In the produce department, go through several items (we decided to check 20 items) and write the name of the item in the column where it comes from.  For "MY COUNTRY," write the name of the item and the state/province of origin.  For "OTHER COUNTRIES," write the name of the item and the country of origin.  Do the same for eggs, beef, chicken, and anything else that strikes your fancy.  ...but, be careful of major producers who are national companies that may be getting produce from many different areas.  We avoided big-name companies and packaged produce like bagged lettuce and bagged salads.  We stuck with basic fruits and vegetables, eggs, beef from a small farm, and chicken from a small farm.  We also compared free-range eggs with conventional eggs.

* Print out a map of your country with the states/provinces marked.  On the map, label YOUR state.  Write the items from the "MY COUNTRY" column of your grocery store list on the map with each item in the state of origin.  Do the same for the "OTHER COUNTRIES" items on a map of the world.  We also found it useful to draw a straight line from each origin to our city.  It gave us a good visual sense of the path these foods had to travel in order to get to us.

* Look up the distance each item had to travel to get to you.  For those that did not list a specific city, we used either a major city in the state or country, or the capital city.  Then, arrange your list by distance.  What had to travel the farthest to get to you?  What was closest to you?  How do you think these things had to travel (air, train, truck, rail)?  How long do you think it took to get to you and what does that do the the nutritional value of the food?

We also watched a number of movies based on food, food-related ecology, and nutrition.  Our favorites are
"Food, Inc." (but this one can get a little gross....), and "What's on Your Plate?"  The second was especially appealing because it is from the point of view of two girls about JP's age - 12 years old or so.

What's On Your Plate?


There are a number of other projects you could tie in with Omnivore's Dilemma, but these were the ones that seemed to be the most meaningful for us.  Hope they are able to provide your family with some fun and learning!

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