The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets behind What You Eat

The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets behind What You Eat

by Michael Pollan

NOOK BookYoung Readers Edition (eBook - Young Readers Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


The New York Times bestseller that’s changing America’s diet is now perfect for younger readers

“What’s for dinner?” seemed like a simple question—until journalist and supermarket detective Michael Pollan delved behind the scenes. From fast food and big organic to small farms and old-fashioned hunting and gathering, this young readers’ adaptation of Pollan’s famous food-chain exploration encourages kids to consider the personal and global health implications of their food choices.

In a smart, compelling format with updated facts, plenty of photos, graphs, and visuals, as well as a new afterword and backmatter, The Omnivore’s Dilemma serves up a bold message to the generation that needs it most: It’s time to take charge of our national eating habits—and it starts with you.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101148761
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/15/2009
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 308,168
Lexile: 930L (what's this?)
File size: 12 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Michael Pollan is the author of five books: Second Nature, A Place of My Own, The Botany of Desire, which received the Borders Original Voices Award for the best nonfiction work of 2001 and was recognized as a best book of the year by the American Booksellers Association and Amazon, and the national bestellers, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food.

A longtime contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, Pollan is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. His writing on food and agriculture has won numerous awards, including the Reuters/World Conservation Union Global Award in Environmental Journalism, the James Beard Award, and the Genesis Award from the American Humane Association.


San Francisco Bay Area, California

Date of Birth:

February 6, 1955

Place of Birth:

Long Island, New York


Bennington College, Oxford University, and Columbia University

Read an Excerpt


Before I began working on this book, I never gave much thought to where my food came from. I didn’t spend much time worrying about what I should and shouldn’t eat. Food came from the supermarket and as long as it tasted good, I ate it.

Until, that is, I had the chance to peer behind the curtain of the modern American food chain. This came in 1998. I was working on an article about genetically modified food—food created by changing plant DNA in the laboratory. My reporting took me to the Magic Valley in Idaho, where most of the french fries you’ve ever eaten begin their life as Russet Burbank potatoes. There I visited a farm like no farm I’d ever seen or imagined.

It was fifteen thousand acres, divided into 135-acre crop circles. Each circle resembled the green face of a tremendous clock with a slowly rotating second hand. That sweeping second hand was the irrigation machine, a pipe more than a thousand feet long that delivered a steady rain of water, fertilizer, and pesticide to the potato plants. The whole farm was managed from a bank of computer monitors in a control room. Sitting in that room, the farmer could, at the flick of a switch, douse his crops with water or whatever chemical he thought they needed.

One of these chemicals was a pesticide called Monitor, used to control bugs. The chemical is so toxic to the nervous system that no one is allowed in the field for five days after it is sprayed. Even if the irrigation machine breaks during that time, farmers won’t send a worker out to fix it because the chemical is so dangerous. They’d rather let that whole 135-acres crop of potatoes dry up and die.

That wasn’t all. During the growing season, some pesticides get inside the potato plant so that they will kill any bug that takes a bite. But these pesticides mean people can’t eat the potatoes while they’re growing, either. After the harvest, the potatoes are stored for six months in a gigantic shed. Here the chemicals gradually fade until the potatoes are safe to eat. Only then can they be turned into french fries.

That’s how we grow potatoes?

I had no idea.


A few years later, while working on another story, I found myself driving down Interstate 5, the big highway that runs between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I was on my way to visit a farmer in California’s Central Valley. It was one of those gorgeous autumn days when the hills of California are gold. Out of nowhere, a really nasty smell assaulted my nostrils—the stench of a gas station restroom sorely in need of attention. But I could see nothing that might explain the smell—all around me were the same blue skies and golden hills.

And then, very suddenly, the golden hills turned jet-black on both sides of the highway: black with tens of thousands of cattle crowded onto a carpet of manure that stretched as far as the eye could see. I was driving through a feedlot, with tens of thousands of animals bellying up to a concrete trough that ran along the side of the highway for what seemed like miles. Behind them rose two vast pyramids, one yellow, the other black: a pile of corn and a pile of manure. The cattle, I realized, were spending their days transforming the stuff of one pile into the stuff of the other.

This is where our meat comes from?

I had no idea.

Suddenly that “happy meal” of hamburger and fries looked a lot less happy. Between the feedlot and the potato farm, I realized just how little I knew about the way our food is produced. The picture in my head, of small family farms with white picket fences and red barns and happy animals on green pastures, was seriously out of date.


Now I had a big problem. I went from never thinking about where my food came from to thinking about it all the time. I started worrying about what I should and shouldn’t eat. Just because food was in the supermarket, did that mean it was good to eat?

The more I studied and read about food the more I realized I was suffering from a form of the omnivore’s dilemma. This is a big name for a very old problem. Human beings are omnivores. That means we eat plants, meat, mushrooms—just about anything. But because we are omnivores we have very little built-in instinct that tells us which foods are good for us and which aren’t. That’s the dilemma—we can eat anything, but how do we know what to eat?

The omnivore’s dilemma has been around a long time. But today we have a very modern form of this dilemma. We have a thousand choices of food in our supermarkets, but we don’t really know where our food comes from. As I discovered, just finding out how our potatoes are grown might scare you off french fries for the rest of your life.

In the past, people knew about food because they grew it or hunted it themselves. They learned about food from their parents and grandparents. They cooked and ate the same foods people in their part of the world had always eaten. Modern Americans don’t have strong food traditions. Instead we have dozens of different “experts” who give us lots of different advice about what to eat and what not to eat.

It’s one thing to be crazy about food because you like to eat. But I found I was going crazy from worrying about food. So I set out to try to solve the modern omnivore’s dilemma. I decided to become a food detective, to find out where our food comes from and what exactly it is we are eating. My detective work became the book you now hold in your hands.


As a food detective, I had to go back to the beginning, to the farms and fields where our food is grown. Then I followed it each step of the way, and watched what happened to our food on its way to our stomachs. Each step was another link in a chain—a food chain.

A food chain is a system for growing, making, and delivering food. In this book, I follow four different food chains. Each one has its own section. They are:


This is where most of our food comes from today. This chain starts in a giant field, usually in the Midwest, where a single crop is grown—corn, or perhaps soybeans—and ends up in a supermarket or fast-food restaurant.

Industrial Organic

This food is grown on large industrial farms, but with only natural fertilizers, and natural bug and weed control. It is sold in the same way as industrial food.

Local Sustainable

This is food grown on small farms that raise lots of different kinds of crops and animals. The food from the farm doesn’t need to be processed, and it travels a short distance—to a farmer’s market, for example—before it reaches your table.


This is the oldest type of food chain there is. It’s hardly a chain at all, really. It is made up simply of you, hunting, growing, or finding your food.

All these food chains end the same way—with a meal. And so I thought it important to end each section of the book with a meal, whether it was a fast-food hamburger eaten in a speeding car, or a meal I made myself from start to finish.


When I was ten years old, I started my own “farm” in a patch of our backyard. From that age until now, I have always had a vegetable garden, even if only a small one. The feeling of being connected to food is very important to me. It’s an experience that I think most of us are missing today. We’re so confused about food that we’ve forgotten what food really is—the bounty of the earth and the power of the sun captured by plants and animals.

There were parts of this book that were difficult to write, because the facts were so unpleasant. Some of those facts might make you lose your appetite. But the point of this book is not to scare you or make you afraid of food. I think we enjoy food much more if we take a little time to know what it is we’re putting in our mouths. Then we can really appreciate the truly wonderful gifts that plants and animals have given us. To me, that’s the point of this book, to help you rediscover the pleasures of food and learn to enjoy your meals in a new way.

The Omnivore’s Solution: Some Tips for Eating

I’ll bet I know your last burning question: “What now?” Now that you know all that you know about the food chains we depend on, how exactly should you fill up your plate? Most of my readers have the same question, so I’ve developed a handful of everyday rules to guide you through the newfound challenges (and possibilities!) of mealtime. (You can find more of them in the book I wrote after The Omnivore’s Dilemma, called In Defense of Food.)

My advice comes in three parts:


That sounds pretty simple, but you now know it’s not so easy to do. There are many things disguised as food in our supermarkets and fast-food restaurants; I call them “edible food-like substances” (EFLS for short) and suggest you avoid them. But how do you tell the difference between real food and EFLS? Here are a few rules of thumb:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Imagine she’s by your side when you’re picking up something to eat. Does she have any idea what that Go-GURT portable yogurt tube is or how you’re supposed to eat it? (She might think it’s toothpaste.) The same goes for that Honey-Nut Cheerios, cereal bar, the one with the layer of fake milk running through the middle, or the (even weirder) cereal “straw.”
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or with ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce. As with the Twinkie, that long ingredient list means you’re looking at a highly processed product—an edible food-like substance likely to contain more sugar, salt, and fat than your body needs, and very few real nutrients.
  3. Don’t eat anything containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Think about it: only corporations ever “cook” with the stuff. Avoid it and you will automatically avoid many of the worst kinds of EFLS, including soda.

    To make sure you’re buying real food:

    1. Get your food from the outside perimeter of the supermarket and try to avoid the middle aisles. In the cafeteria, go for the salad bar or the fruit basket. These places are where you still find fresh plant and animal foods that have only been been minimally processed. In the middle aisles of the store—and in the school vending machines—are where most of the EFLS lurk.
    2. Don’t buy, or eat, anything that doesn’t eventually rot. A food engineered to live forever is usually full of chemicals. Food should be alive, and that means it should eventually die.
    3. Shop at the farmers market, through a CSA, or at a farmstand whenever you can. Get out of the supermarket, the corner deli, and the gas station, and you won’t find those flashy fake foods.
    4. Be your own food detective. Pay attention to where your food comes from (were those berries picked in your state or halfway around the world?) and how it is grown (Organic? Grass-fed? Humanely raised?). Read labels and ask questions. What’s the story behind your food? And how do you feel about that story?

    How you prepare and eat food is often just as important as what you eat. So:

    1. Cook. The best way to take control of your meals is to cook whenever you can. As soon as you start cooking, you begin to learn about ingredients, to care about their quality, and to develop your sense of taste. You’ll find over time that, when you prepare and eat real food, fast food gets boring—more of the same old taste of salt, fat, and sugar in every Chips Ahoy! or microwave pizza. There are so many more interesting tastes to experiment with in the kitchen and to experience at the table.
    2. Garden. The freshest, best-tasting food you can eat is freshly picked food from the garden. Nothing is more satisfying than to cook and eat food you grew yourself.
    3. Try not to eat alone. When we eat alone we eat without thinking, and we usually eat too much: Just think about how thoughtlessly you can put away a bag of chips or cookies in front of the television or computer, or while doing your homework. Eating should be social; food is more fun when you share it.
    4. Eat slowly and stop when you’re full. The food industry makes money by getting you to eat more than you need or even want to. Just because they offer a supersized 64-ounce Big Gulp and 1,250-calorie, 5-cup restaurant plate of spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t mean that’s the amount you should eat. Take back control of your portions (a normal-size serving of spaghetti is about a cup and a half).
    5. Eat at the table. I know, it sounds obvious. But we snack more than we dine these days; 19 percent of the meals consumed in America today are eaten in the car. The deepest joys of eating come when we slow down to savor our food and share it with people we love. The real meal—family and friends gathered around a table—is in danger of extinction. For the sake of your family’s health and happiness, and for your own, do what you can to save it. You might be surprised how much enjoyment it can bring.
  • Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    See All Customer Reviews

    The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
    jupitermom More than 1 year ago
    I gave this to my 9 and 11 year old for Christmas. They weren't very thrilled and wouldn't read it themselves. So I started reading it at bedtime to them and now they are really into it. We've had quite a few dicussions about the ideas and issue presented.
    AlonzoACHS21 More than 1 year ago
    Alonzo Clarke The Omnivore’s Dilemma Book Review The purpose of this book is to Michael Pollan, food detectives, perspective of what people eat on a daily basis. Pollan goes on introduce the book with background on him and how being a food detective changed his life. The author went on to give information on an industrial food and a food that consist in over 70% of our foods: corn. Pollan announces how corn fields began in America; how the machinery helped change the way farming is done today, items that consist of corn, how corn is produced, and a calorie check for common fast-food meals. Then, he goes on the show the evolution in changes of foods. He then, started to talk about how organic foods came along and how the organic process transformed from previous years to modern days. Pollan hits at the fact how that the local sustainable meals affect people. The author then, gives a prime example of a farmer’s life. He did that by giving a farmer from the Polyface Farm. Then, he shows the exporting and the transportation of foods and goods in markets. While, reading I wonder is the food we eat dirty than we think because from all the shipping and transportation. The author then goes on to discuss the life of hunters and people who gather food lifestyles. He also, shows how hunted food is the best food because you’re processing your on food. Michael Pollan wrote Omnivore’s Dilemma to show how his job has affected what he eats and informs readers about food choices.
    pro-beef More than 1 year ago
    There is a great episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" where he talks to Michael Pollan - over a burger. Which does not make him a hypocrite as his title clearly states it is an "omnivores dilemma" to eat ethically and responsibly. I suppose the numerous e-coli and other contaminant outbreaks IN OUR VEGETABLES is just chance, not run-off from poorly run meat farm/factories. Pollan's argument is decidedly not a PETA argument, it is one in favor of a balanced diet and respecting the animals and the earth that gives us our food.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    calling someone a liar without explaining what he is lying about is unethical, and saying he believes in animal rights does not invalidate his argument that our food choices have led to an obese country that is nutritionally starved. overweight children lead to overweight adults, look at the cdc website.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Animal rights is not a cult. It's kindness. I am a vegetarian, and that is not a bad thing. And this book isn' t meant to disgust you into not eating, it's supposed to open your eyes to the reality of food. So you can eat actual food instead of processed chemicals. Which is what you were probably eating before you read this.
    locomycocnuttooshay More than 1 year ago
    I never really thought about what I ate before reading this book. THis made me think about what I ate but not in a calorie crazy way. It would be a little confusing to someone 9 and under but when someone turns 10 or above they should definitely read this book. It helps you understand why you should eat vegetables instead of McDonalds every night. Great for school health projects too( but it's far from boring!).
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Had to read the book in my class made a lot of vegitarians in my class and those of you wo gave it one star you guys are asholes this book teaches the fundamentals of food an wha it shoild beinsead of the garbage tha americans feed kids and people today how isthis book inaprpiate for kids my teaxher bought the book for all of my fellow students and taght them a great lessen
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This was are required reading for seventh graade i loved it and loved the way pollan put it in to a easy read on all i give this a million stars out of five
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Im reading this for school best book ever if u dont read it your loss
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was so informational. I will always list this one as my favorite.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book was a great read, and I learned a lot about where my food comes from. It is my new favorite book!
    Liz XXXXX More than 1 year ago
    This book is hilairous
    tahoegirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A much easier and more accessible read than the adult version. Everyone should read should read this book to see the different food options out there. Vote with your fork!
    heidigilia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is a great book that not only gives us more information about the food we eat but it gives us the science behind it. We learn the process of how a plant makes its own food to how it becomes part of our food. We also learn about calories from the food and drinks that we consume. This book also gives us an understanding of how the meat and organic industries work. I really enjoyed the dilemma part of the book, which help me to see different points of view on eating meat or the different types of vegetarians. I also enjoyed learning more about the way animals are slaughtered, since I do consider myself a Flexitarian. This is a great book to help teenagers as well as adults understand the cycle of food along with the sciences that relate to our food chain. There are many diagrams and side notes that give the reader more information like the things that are made from corn and the Nitrogen cycle. This book is for older teenagers since the topics are harder to understand if you do not have an idea about the science behind it. The only thing I had a hard time with was at time the information got a little lengthy when talking about the history of things, like corn.
    fatlamb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    BIG fan of the book...I have had a lot of experience in reading books such as this one in the past, I do believe it is important to know where your food comes from. I shop at farmers markets, I try to buy local and sustainable, I hardly ever go to eat at fast food or large chain restaurants, when at the store I only try to by products with five or less ingredients, and I even have a garden...all these things are and have been difficult on me (especially for my girlfriend) and for many of us not realistic. It is a lifestyle that some of us choose to do. Since believing firmly in the beliefs, topics, and issues that Pollan brings to surface, it is very difficult to find fault in the book. I can see and understand how many people may view this book as slap in the face to the American way of living, we tend to enjoy bigger things (cars, meals), we do not like being told what to do, we do not like change especially in our eating habits. It is very understandable that many may think Pollan is just trying to brain wash and corrupt young adults minds by his writing. Pollan does a great job (at least I think) to deliver his message without being forceful or preachy... he brings issues (the way animals are raised, the ways certain corporations dominate the food surplus, the way food gets to our grocery stores, etc...) to the forefront and lets the reader come to the final no time did I ever think Pollan was writing to trick or per sway readers. Five StarsThe book is very informative and easy to follow. By being so informative and insightful, one would think the book may read more like a textbook than a book, but not the case with this book. Pollan does a great job making the book interesting and relevant to anyone who enjoys eating. I would recommend this book to any high school student and any middle school student who is interested in learning about where are food comes from and the role we(us consumers) play with the environment.
    MsLangdon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Science BookPollan, M. & adapted by Chevat, R. (2009). The omnivore¿s dilemma: the secrets behind what you eat. (Young Readers ed.). New York: Dial. Michael Pollan takes you on a journey through the food chain in The Omnivore¿s Dilemma. As omnivore¿s we are inclined to eat anything, hence the dilemma. He explains that not everything is good to eat. As an investigator of food, he reveals some important information on the various types of food chains and explains how they are affecting our health, as well as the effects that it has on the environment. He becomes a ¿food detective¿ and investigates where food really comes from for four different types of meals: The Industrial Meal, The Industrial Organic Meal, The Local Sustainable Meal, and The Do-It-Yourself Meal. The Young Readers Edition adapted by Richie Chevat is easy to understand without sacrificing the integrity of the arguments brought forth by Michael Pollan. His concern with highly processed foods and their effects on our bodies and the environment are clearly presented and well-discussed. The pictures and sidebars add to the content. The text is chunked appropriately and the subheadings enhance the clarity of the topic being discussed. This book will appeal to readers concerned with health and the environment. Grades 7-12.
    erineell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Everyone should know where their food comes from so that they can make informed decisions on what is best for them to eat. In this nonfiction book, The Omnivore¿s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat Young Readers Edition, author Michael Pollan gives readers the opportunity to experience four different food chains (Industrial, Industrial Organic, Local Sustainable and Hunter-Gather) by tracking down a meal from its conception to our stomach. Pollan descriptively writes about his personal experiences in each of the food chains, posing legal and ethical questions regarding the information he has learned. Although he is clear in his stance on how we should get and treat our food, Pollan manages to convey his research in a non-preachy way with some humor. Also included in this book are images from his experiences, sources for further information, listing by chapter of the resources he used to write this book and an index. Another strength is that this book covers a universal topic¿ the food we eat and will leave readers thinking about their food. Omnivore¿s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat Young Readers Edition is a must have book for libraries that serve young adults! Age Appropriate: 13 years-old and up The Young Readers Edition is a modified version of Pollan¿s original book, The Omnivore¿s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, making the content more appropriate, understandable and appealing to younger readers. Due to the graphic discussion of factory farms and treatment of animals, younger students should not read this book without exposure to such realities. Some facts shared are unpleasant and might make one lose their appetite.
    ShellyPYA on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Basically just The Omnivore's Dilemma with some added facts and resources. Provides excellent information on where our food comes from and how the eating choices we make have a much broader effect than we realize.
    ambookgeek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is a great read. I liked the fact that Pollan is able to write about the food industry without judging me to be completely morally bankrupt if I elect to have a Big Mac meal in my car every now and again (hopefully not while driving past the cattle feedlots on the I5 between L.A. and San Francisco ... Ugh!). The piece truly does make you realize that we should be making more conscious choices about what we eat, how we eat, from where our food comes, and how we "vote with our forks."
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Great book suggest reading it
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Know I know where last nights beef steak came from. Bless you Michael pollen
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    it was good
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Thhis man is brilliant well worth the money
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago