Reading More Than Menus

“As a culture we seem to have arrived at a place where whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety,” writes Michael Pollan in the introduction to The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. “How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?”

Since eating is often on the minds of college students in one way or another, it seems appropriate that this year’s Penn Reading Project is Pollan’s book. (It’s especially appropriate given that the title comes from a 1976 paper written by Dr. Paul Rozin, professor of psychology at Penn, titled “The Selection of Foods by Rats, Humans, and Other Animals.”) While on one level The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about economics and nutrition, it’s also about American history, agriculture, anthropological traditions, and psychology. It confronts what Pollan calls a “national eating disorder” by examining, in great detail, the “three principal food chains that sustain us today: the industrial, the organic, and the hunter-gatherer.”

Copies of The Omnivore’s Dilemma will be sent to discussion leaders and first-year students this month, and on the afternoon of September 2, they will join together to discuss it. More information about the Penn Reading Project can be found at




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