The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Humans, like rats, are omnivores, having evolved so that we can eat pretty much anything—meat, vegetables, Au Bon Pain, fish, fruit, fungi, Taco Bell. A notable exception: grass. Humans can't eat grass (or, more properly stated, we can't digest grass, and so turn it into energy), because we lack rumens. Cows and other ruminants have rumens, so they can turn grass into energy, but humans mostly don't feed cows grass anymore, they feed cows corn. Which sucks for the cows because it means their whole life is spent with a horrible stomach ache. Which is one of the reasons why they need to be pumped with antibiotics all the time. Chickens, too, pretty much exclusively eat corn these days. Pigs as well. And farmed salmon. In fact, pretty much every animal we eat, eats corn. And pretty much everything else we eat and drink that you buy at Gristedes or D'Agostino or McDonalds is mostly made out of corn. Seriously. Soda? 100% corn. Chicken McNuggets, 56% corn. And what does corn eat? Artificial fertilizer made from petroleum. So rather than converting the sun's energy into food, we're converting fossil fuel into food.
Mmmmmmm.... Fossil fuel.
But I'm getting way ahead of myself. Which is easy to do whenever I think about Michael Pollen's meandering, eye-opening, vastly entertaining The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. In addition to a McDonald's meal that sparks a hundred-page riff on how corn came to rule America, the author explores the world of "Big Organic" (the cows that provide Horizon milk, for example, are most definitely NOT prancing around a pasture, as the illustration on the carton would like you to believe); he spends an incredible week at an enormously impressive sustainable farm in Virginia; he muses on the ethics of meat-eating vs. vegetarianism (will humans one day look back at this period in history and be astonished and appalled at the way we treated animals?); he hunts and kills a wild boar, he forages for morels in the ashes after a forest fire... basically, Pollan tells a hundred great stories filled with a thousand interesting facts and ideas about what we eat and why. I loved this book: it's smart, dynamic, serious, fast-paced, fascinating.