How a Book Becomes a Unit

One of our seminar assignments was to do a book paper and eventually, a mini-lesson based on our book. The purpose here (as I internalized it) was to try and find a book relevant to either our specific content or our discourse that would positively influence our practice. I went the content route because one of my struggles is with finding good hooks for the introduction of topics and units. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan is a wonderful look into how the food we eat gets to our table and what that means for all of us. It is filled with big ideas for both evolution and ecology while dealing with everyone’s favorite topic: food. Below is the paper I wrote, containing my summary of the book, its potential uses in a Living Environment classroom to plan activities, and whether it is worth the time and brainpower to read it and gain from it (spoiler alert: it totally is):

The big question: If you are what you eat, what are you and what should you be?


Michael Pollan examines how we eat, and how we ended up in the food world of today. Ecology, evolution, and health all come together in a multi-lens view of humans, past and present, as eaters. Through three distinct food “movements”: our current supermarket and fast food state of affairs, the growing organic movement and its pros and cons, and the feasibility of a meal exclusively of gathered foods shows us that there are so many ways to eat and things to eat beyond our supermarket shelves.


Since ecology and evolution are so much of the Living Environment curriculum, it is quite possible to use this book as a cornerstone to the curriculum. The big ideas in those units are throughout the book.

The themes of human evolution are everywhere and it offers a unique perspective on how we evolved into Homo sapiens as we know it. Structuring the unit with an essential question like “why is our diet so diverse?” We can examine out evolution and how cooking, our jaws, and our taste buds were all facets of evolutionary fitness. We as a species crave sugar and fat as a byproduct from our hunter/gatherer days when we did not know when the next meal would come. Now in our more sedentary lives it does a bit more harm than good in contributing to our growing health epedemic. One lab that can be done is one on our taste buds. After brainstorming what kinds of food are sweet, sour, salty and bitter, we can actually taste them ourselves and see what those foods have in common and why we would want to sense those foods, and what do we gain from eating those foods. The questions that would be raised in a lab like this are ones like “why is it an evolutionary benefit to crave sugar? Is it a benefit now? And what has changed from ancient man to now?” Since a big part of selection and adaptation is being able to get food readily, tacking evolution through that lens would be relevant and scientifically sound.

As far as ecology and human impact goes, the first part of the book is fantastic for that. Looking at the trophic pyramid through our food stocks shows the inefficiency of cows in converting food to mass, and the corn industry as a warning for an ecosystem that is not diverse. The book on the whole has a lot of case studies that could be used for looking at human impact on the ecosystem, for example the fast food indsutry’s demand for cheap beef leaving a good chunk of the agrarian U.S. as a single-crop mess destroying the soil to the farmers and chefs who believe in using every part of an animal of piece of farmland, and looking at the final meals from each part of the book can be a classroom debate with a lot of viewpoints including cost, effort, sustainability, and health.


Overall, I absolutely recommend this book to any teacher and to any person who wants to take a closer look at their food. It is also for any lover of food on the whole; it is a wonderful exploration of the connectedness we have to the food we eat and that everything that ends up on our plate came from someone’s work, care and passion.

See ya next week! I’ve got DNA models to make out of pipe cleaner backbones and (insert material here) nucleotide bases. Peace out!


3 thoughts on “How a Book Becomes a Unit

  1. I want to read this book!

    I like your idea of having learners think about why we crave sweets, why we crave fats, etc.

    • Yeah food always seems to be a great equalizer. And it also gives a great lens to talk about eating healthy and making good food choices other than “this is bad for you, and this is good for you.”

  2. Just wanted to add this… there is a version of the book written for kids:
    The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat

    It is a somewhat simpler version of the original book, written in a kid-friendly way.

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