The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Chapter 15 Summary

Michael Pollan

Chapter 15 Summary

In “The Forager,” Michael Pollan turns to his third food chain, which he dubs “personal.” Having explored the industrial and pastoral food chains, Pollan now sets his sights on feeding himself. He intends to eat from three sources of food: animal, vegetable, and fungi. Pollan admits that he is largely helpless to feed himself from any of these food groups. Although he has been a gardener for most of his life, he has recently moved from New England to California and does now know gardening in his new environment. Pollan remains determined to complete his quest.

Of the three food chains Pollan has so far explored, he admits that the personal is by far the least practical. He points out that although it is thought that hunter-gatherers spent only seventeen hours each week collecting food, they quickly exhausted their supply of megafauna and turned to agriculture. Ironically, this reliance on crops led to lower health; Pollan points out only in the past few centuries have people begun to reach the same levels of health and fitness they had in hunter-gatherer societies. Ultimately, Pollan acknowledges the futility of the personal chain as a means of practically feeding society, but he still feels that it will be a didactic experience.

Because he does not know very much about California’s flora and fauna—not to mention the fungi—Pollan once again seeks out a guide. His “forager Virgil” turns out to be Angelo Garro. Garro was born in Sicily before following a woman to Canada and then following a different woman to San Francisco. There he established himself as a man whose life revolved around food. In fact, Pollan admits that he met Garro at the sorts of dinners for which both men’s reputations as food experts would draw invitations. Garro agrees to be Pollan’s guide but informs him that he will have to get a hunter’s license.

Pollan includes a great deal of humor throughout “The Forager.” He finds that

they’ll sell a high-powered rifle to just about anybody in California, but it’s against the law to aim the thing at an animal without first enduring a fourteen-hour class and a one-hundred-question multiple-choice exam.

After two months of preparation, Pollan succeeds in obtaining his license. Over this period, Pollan begins to find that his walks through the wild have changed and that he begins to view nature as a gigantic restaurant. Although he finds himself picking mushrooms, he is too careful to actually eat them, fearing that they might be poisonous. He concludes that this anxiety “impales” him on “the horns of the omnivore’s dilemma.”