Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The End of Food by Thomas Pawlick

I recently picked up this book and was SUPER excited about what it might have in store for me. The opening chapter caught my attention right off the get-go. Chapter one was about the tomato. Not the ones you find yourself smelling at the farmer’s market while dreaming of its endless possibilities; rather, the tomato that you find at the supermarket. You know the tomato I’m talking about… the one that looks like all the other ones in the pile. They’re all roughly the same size. They’re very firm. They have no unsightly marks or bruises. When you cut into them, the walls are so thick that the tomato doesn’t even lose its shape. And, finally, there are no fruit flies hovering over them, even on the warmest of days.
That’s how Thomas F. Pawlick caught my attention. I knew exactly which tomatoes he was talking about and I had wondered the very same thing. The chapter goes on to tell you just how those tomatoes got to be so uniform and what sort of nutritional value they offer the consumer (not much). This is followed by stats on other fruits and vegetables. So far, so good. Nothing too shocking here.
The following chapter, however, starts to dig deeper into our factory-like food system. With sections on antibiotics, acrylamide, arsenic, dioxins, bovine growth hormones, genetically modified food stuffs, Mad Cow, pesticides, E. Coli, and other shocking possible food contaminants, this section proves much harder to swallow, so to speak, than the first section. By the end of this chapter I’m afraid to eat anything, lest it grew in my backyard under conditions I had some control over. I found myself hoping that the author would ease up for a bit and inject some humour into his text. That hope did not help me to prepare for the information contained in the following chapters.
The following chapters focused on the damage done to the environment, the manipulation of consumers and farmers by giant corporations, and the kinds of conditions the animals we eat are forced endure before they land on our plate (a particularly rough section for the weaker stomachs).
As a consumer, there are certain things that you think you know, and some of them you even come to accept (ie. pesticide use), and then there are things that are so horrifyingly wrong, that no one wants you to even know about them. Once you do know, however, they are hard to swallow and even more difficult to ignore. I am telling you about this book because I think it contains information that, while difficult to digest, is important for your health, the health of the planet and the future of mankind.
Thomas Pawlick’s text is well researched and fairly well-written. My only criticism (and it’s a BIG one), is that I think it may have the opposite effect than desired. The reader has to wade through 180 pages of shocking details. There is no break, there’s no humour injected to make it easier to handle, and there is no sense of hope. With the solutions being a mere 40 pages long (and still riddled with more depressing facts), a less dedicated person would have put the book down, guilt-free. I found The End of Food to be so overwhelmingly depressing that it took me 2 weeks to read its 256 pages (keeping in mind that 33 of those pages are notes). Twice, I was disturbed to the point of tears, embarrassingly, while at work. If ever I had the opportunity to meet Thomas Pawlick, I would suggest that he put solutions at the end of each section, lest the less hopeful readers give up on both the book, and humanity. That being said, I did learn some new information from Pawlick's research and he did get me to make one major change; I will no longer be spending my hard-earned money on meat from the grocery store. If there is a local farm that supplies hormone-free and anti-biotic meat, from animals who have been fairly treated, I will be paying them a visit soon.

For those of you who have already read books on the food industry, this text might be a tad redundant. For those of you starting out, this book might be a tad too shocking and hopeless. For those of you, like me, somewhere in the middle, you'll find The End of Food to be somewhere in the middle of redundant and informative. A good read, none-the-less.


  1. Thanks for your review on Thomas Pawlick's book. I just heard about it myself and was looking for such reviews before I ordered it, as I am researching this subject and attempting to compile a book of my own. (I'm not holding my breath. For now, I'm simply calling it a "project." If it turns out to be a book, good for me! If not, I've learned a lot!)

    I agree that such depressing news is more easily digested with a bit of humor...or at least a solution. My resolution for the new year is to avoid all GMO foods (as much as it's within my power), to stop giving money to corporations and to start gardening, for the first time in my life. Now, I'm just waiting for my seeds to arrive so I can start some indoor winter gardening.

    In the meantime, I'm afraid to eat anything without a thick peel on it and live in a town that doesn't have much of an organic selection. (Our Farmer's Market consists of one vendor who also sells GMO food.)

  2. I saw Thomas Pawlick speak tonight, and I think he comes across much the same in person as in print.

    I'm the choir he's trying to preach to, and I just felt tired when he was done. He makes the problem seem impossible, and as though it is too late to fix anything. If his intent is to motivate people to make change, I fear he's fearing them into just trying to survive as best they can and damn the consequences.

  3. Thanks for letting me know this. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I was a little harsh on poor Mr. Pawlick, but then I remember just how much I disliked that book. I truly believe it is one of the most counter-productive pieces of work I have ever read.
    Thanks for your comment.

  4. I have to say, this book changed my life. As hard as it was to be faced with the facts of our food system, at least I'm not the cow or chicken who's life it is to be part of it. I certainly have never eaten factory meat since that time, and have changed just about every aspect of our lives to reflect my locavore values. I've also influenced many to make different decisions, as well.

    I have read a mountain of books on all of the subjects he discusses in his book since then and I do see, that in comparison, Pawlick's book is like being cold-cocked, but I'm still grateful I read it! One thing for sure, I'll never forgot the repugnance I felt for my part in supporting such a vile and cruel food system with my hard-earned dollars.

  5. I plan to be hearing Thomas Pawlick speak in a couple of weeks here in Hastings County and I am wondering how to prepare. I do belong to the crowd of the converted and am fairly well aware of all the misery that is going on under the flag of commercial farming. However I also saw the documentary Fresh the other day and that was one of hope and it showed next to all the bad stuff also the good stuff going on. There are apparently many more Joel Salatins inhabiting our space and many often not far away. As Ted Zettel recently mentioned in The Ramshorn (thank you Brewster and Cath you're still at it)the one good thing about unsustainability is that it is unsustainable. After Fresh, and after watching several TED talks, and after learning what they are doing in Puget, and what is happening in the Hudson River watershed,and here and there in the GTA and Durham, how Kingston area NFu farmers are trying to connect with their urban neighbours. I think maybe we are not that far from the Tipping point. Remember Monsanto share value has dropped, even though Billy Gates had bought an extra 500,000 shares.