Chapter 14 Summary
“The Meal: Grass Fed” is the final chapter in which Michael Pollan explores the pastoral food chain. In the first section of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan examined the industrial food chain. Although he discovered that he could have eaten industrial food based on the subsidized corn chain almost anywhere, Pollan chose to take his wife and son to a McDonald’s drive-through. The contrast between Pollan’s fast-food meal and his pastoral meal is striking and promotes the alternative food chain that Salatin’s Polyface Farm is trying to create.
After a week at Polyface Farm, Pollan recalls Salatin’s refusal to FedEx a steak from Virginia to California. The keystone of Salatin’s pastoral food chain is the relationships that people are able to form locally. Thus, Pollan elects to eat with close friends who live near the Salatin farm. As compensation for his week helping around the farm, Joel gives Pollan a Polyface chicken and eggs. Ironically, Pollan admits that he would have preferred to not eat chicken after so recently participating in their slaughter, but he relents, realizing that chickens are the meat in season at this time.
As Pollan shops for his meal, he demonstrates a different set of values from those he usually uses to make decisions. He elects to buy wine that is expensive, inferring from the price that it will be a quality vintage. He chooses his vegetables based on their seasonality and whether they were grown locally. In particular, Pollan is aware that he has some of Salatin’s celebrated eggs, and he elects to make a chocolate soufflé for dessert. The process of making the meal is very conscientious and planned out in detail, and it is based on values that extend beyond price and quantity.
Pollan resists boasting but cannot hide his preference for the pastoral meal over the one he ate at the end of the industrial food chain. When Pollan and his family eat McDonald’s in the car, it takes them less than ten minutes to finish the meal, suggesting that there is little in it to be enjoyed. When Pollan eats with his friends, he finds that at first they eat the food without talking because it is delectable. They go on to have a conversation. The atmosphere is not based on efficiency but on the warmth of friendship and the quality of food. Pollan’s soufflé turns out well, and he finds himself able to overcome his concerns about the chicken. The entire meal reminds him of the sustainable circle of Joel Salatin’s alternative farm.