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The Trouble With Omnivores Essay

1704 words - 7 pages

What is an omnivore? An omnivore is a creature that consumes both plants and animals for nutrition. In Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma he explains just as the title suggests, the omnivore’s dilemma. In it he describes how omnivores, such as ourselves, came to eat the way we do now. After he discusses the basics of that, he proceeds to talk about Americans and how they eat. Pollan divides his writing into four main areas: introducing what the omnivore’s dilemma is, explaining how we decide what to eat, introducing our anxieties towards eating, and the problem with how Americans decide what to eat. Pollan calls on the expertise of Paul Rozin and other specialists to help back up ...view middle of the document...

Basically, Rozin believed that this research would explain how different human cultures came about.
Omnivores, along with the other types of creatures, have bodies that are specifically designed to eat certain foods. We humans have teeth that allow us to tear at meat but also allow us to grind up plants. Our bodies are also made to digest certain things, and require nutrients that are either only supplied by plants or only supplied by animals. This quality that we as omnivores have is the reason there are so many of us in the world. For humans and other omnivores alike, if there is a natural disaster that causes one food source to be wiped out, we can simply find food elsewhere and eat something else. This is not the same though for animals that rely on a certain food, like eucalyptus trees for koalas. This “dietary flexibility” also relates to the size of our brains. Animals that heavily rely on certain foods have smaller brains, while omnivores who require nutrients from different food sources have larger ones. It is the omnivore’s larger brain that allowed it to create “a complicated set of sensory and mental tools to help” sort food (Pollan 291). Our first tool that usually decides what food we eat is taste. Humans can distinguish between many flavors but the main two that help decided what we should and shouldn’t eat are sweetness and bitterness. The first is a taste which alerts our body that carbohydrate energy is present, which supplies energy to our brain. The second is bitter tastes, which is how many toxins produced in plants tastes. This sensitivity to bitterness has helped us avoid poisonous plants.
The next tool that we have acquired is disgust. Rozin has defined it as “the fear of incorporating offending substances into one’s body” (292). Disgust differs between cultures, but some things stay consistent such as rotting food. What we find disgusting can also differ from generation to generation. Most people find it disgusting to cook or eat expired food, but my grandmother will sometimes use spoiled food or eat moldy bread. Yet taste isn’t the only thing that can decide what is good for us. Many bitter plants can contain helpful nutrients and can even be used for medicine. Both the sap from opium poppies and the bark of willows hold healing properties, but they are very bitter. Once it was discovered what they could do though, people were able to get past the bitterness.
Our most useful tool we discovered was cooking. Cooking allowed us to eat many more things than we could originally. It removed the harmful bacteria and substances from food making them edible. The ability to cook is also the only tool humans have that other omnivores do not. This is often cited as evidence that humans entered a new ecological niche, “the cognitive niche,” as many anthropologists have labeled it. Pollan says it is this “term seems calculated to smudge the line between biology and culture” since cooking helped...

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