Omnivore’s Dilemma- Foraging

Michael Pollan, in his third section of The Omnivore’s Dilemma titled Foraging, wants to prepare his meal from three edible kingdoms: animal, vegetable and fungi. He is willing to kill his own meat and gather his own vegetables and fungi in order to connect with his food. From his earlier sections on corn and grass, Pollan knows where his food comes from, but now to take it a step further, he wants to do all the work that goes into a perfect meal.

Because Pollan knows nothing about hunting or shooting a gun, he consults Angelo Garro aka the foraging virgil, to teach him how to hunt down his meat. First, Pollan has to obtain a hunting license in the state of California by taking a hunting education course and then passing an exam. For Pollan to be able to go through killing his own meat, he wants to know what it is like being without it. So, he temporarily becomes a vegetarian to know if he is up for the challenge of actually killing an animal. During his time without eating meat, he realizes that it takes a lot more thought and work than expected. Having to make exceptions at restaurants coupled with the feeling of being alienated from “ritual meals” like turkey on Thanksgiving, hotdogs at ballparks and beef brisket at Passover made it clear to Pollan that he loved meat and could not be without it.

The whole “omnivore’s dilemma” of when, where, how and what to eat adds to the fact that Americans do not have a national cuisine because we are vulnerable to any nutrition change. Instead of relying on our wisdom of cuisine or sense, we rely on experts and diet books and advertising. Figuring out what is safe to eat is another problem. To help this predicament we have tools to help us sort everything out. One is our taste which helps us choose from various substances those which are proper to be consumed. Second is disgust which is the fear of incorporating offending substances into one’s body. Third is cooking which makes the food we eat more digestible. A more reliable source to sort what is safe to eat is our culture and community. They tell us what other people have safely eaten in the past and how they ate it.

The ethics of killing animals raises a controversial question. Of course animals feel pain, but do they feel the same pain as humans? According to Pollan, what is wrong about eating animals is the practice, not the principle. Knowing the animal lives a happy life and has a merciful death makes one feel better about eating meat. This is why Pollan wants to kill his meal himself because in doing it, he will see how the animal dies and gain consciousness and give respect to the animal.

While on his pig hunting journey, Pollan feels excitement due to structures called cannabinoids which intensify sensory experience, disable short term memory and stimulate appetite. That is why after his second attempt at successfully shooting the wild pig, he feels no remorse. It was not until later when he saw a picture of him and the dead pig that he felt ashamed and horrified. To him it did not seem right to be happy and smiling with a pig carcass in the background.

His next mission is to gather wild mushrooms. To avoid picking and eating poisonous mushrooms, Pollan meets with some knowledgeable mushroom pickers who know where to find the mushrooms and what to look for. He gathers many chanterelles and goes morel hunting with a group which he learns that it takes a lot of patience and time to find. But, in the end they are worth the experience.

To finish, Pollan prepares his meal from the pig he hunted and the mushrooms that he gathered. He makes some guidelines for himself to follow while preparing his meal including only using foods he got himself, cooking everything himself, not paying any money and inviting those guests who helped him obtain all the ingredients. Inviting these guests is a way to thank everyone, while honoring the things they will eat. Pollan named it the “omnivore’s thanksgiving.” These ritual meals link us to our history and remind us of nature.