Opening a book is an act of commitment. Gabriel Zaid in So Many Books notes that, given the hourly wage of many readers, the cost of buying a book often pales in comparison to the cost of reading one. Reading takes valuable time, attention & effort — why should we do it? And, given that we hope reading in general will reward us richly enough, what sort of reading should we deem worthy? Fantasy, mystery, theology, history, gossip, science, or news? Why read books, rather than other forms of text? And if one is going to read a book, why read this particular book, by this particular author, and not that one?
In our case, why read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma? That was the question on my mind as I opened up this book, looking forward to enjoying Pollan’s polished journalistic prose, but realizing I was engaging with more than just a passing column in the New York Times. More than other formats, books allow writers & readers to engage our hearts & minds with deep, complex, and sustained thought. Thinking about food is especially rich, because food is connected to everything else: culture, technology, science, economics, health, faith, environment, justice, compassion, politics – on & on! It’s Michael Pollan’s contention that the topic of food in the United States (& elsewhere) could use some sustained thinking; we suffer, he says in his introduction, from a “national eating disorder,” rooted largely in not thinking, in being ignorant of the true nature and source of our food. If the ability to face the risks of knowing & being known are a hallmark of mental health (as some psychologist’s argue), then coping with the risks of knowing our food is a central task for maintaining our own sanity – and the sanity of the world we make. Eating, says Pollan, represents “our most profound engagement with the natural world,” an agricultural, ecological, political act that connects the biology of our bodies with the ecology of the land, seats our culture within nature, and connects us to our fellow creatures great & small. As we read through The Omnivore’s Dilemma, we’ll share the reflections, connections, and questions this engagement provokes.
And we won’t stop there! Books also connect us to other books, so we’ll follow this reading with Pollan’s look at food and health, In Defense of Food; Rick Sanger’s tale of alien eating in No Eat Not Food; Ann Vileisis’ history of family food knowledge in America, Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back; Thomas Lyson’s examination of how we might do things differently, Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community; and Simply in Season along with the other World Community Cookbooks. Have a favorite food title or topic to add to the list? Leave a comment below!
Books also connect us to other people. If you are reading along with these posts, please take a moment to comment & join the conversation, or just let us know you’re out there! I’d also like to invite others to contribute posts to this blog as well. Think you could hold forth for a post or two (or more!) on food? Here’s your chance! If you’d like to get involved as a contributing author for Reading the Table, let me know in the comments or via the Reading Circle Books contact page. Let’s see what we can learn together!