You Are What You Eat; The Corn Life.

Pollan, M. 2006, The Omnivores Dilemma. NY. pg. 15 – 119, The Penguin Press, New York

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is a novel which showcases the history and current issues of four “meals.” The First part of this novel in which our class focussed on is dedicated to corn.

I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters on corn. They were jam-packed with information relayed in a story tellers style. Slightly more factual than Botony of Desire, Pollan does a great job in making every part interesting.

This novel brought to life the idea that corn is so very important in and abundant in life today. Pollan write that “there are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn. This goes for non-food items as well-everything from toothpaste and cosmetics to the disposable diapers, trash bags, cleansers, charcoal briquettes, matches, and batteries, right down to the shine of the cover of the magazine that catches your eye by the checkout: corn.” pg 19. I had no idea of how corn can be used in an ample of ways, and that it is everywhere we look.

One of the interesting but not surprising facts Pollan provides is that fructose is the most valuable product that is refined from corn, food that i s. Apparently it accounts for 530 million bushels of corn every year. Damn.

Pollan continues to talk about the worlds nitrogen supply and how it is important for agriculture and soil health. He explains how more than half of the world’s usable supply of nitrogen is man made today. This can be good and bad. There are lots of uses for nitrogen today, especially in the agricultural industry, and an ample supply of nitrogen can mean more possibilities for agricultural advancements. This abundant nitrogen supply can be bad because overproduction of nitrogen messes with the balance of the environment and in turn can be detrimental to biodiversity.

Although the subject of corn leads to a vast amount of other subjects, Pollan focused a lot on cattle and their role that is intertwined with corn. He talks about how raising cattle for meat very inefficient. The amount of resources and feed that has to go into producing just one pound of meat is ridiculous. It reminded me of this documentary that is available on Netflix that focusses on this very issue, it is called Conspiracy. I highly recommend it.

Another topic that Pollan touches on that caught my attention is obesity in present day. He writes that it is found that “people presented with large portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise.”pg 106. This could be do to the savvy food marketing that is ongoing in todays society. Pollan mentions the idea and start of super sizing-making larger quantities of food and drink available for cheaper than if bought in smaller increments. This forces people to think that splurging on the large amount may be more worth while, therefore consuming more than is needed just for the idea that they may have saved a penny. One quote I really liked was when Pollan said “our bodies are storing up reserves of fat against a famine that never comes.”pg 106

Pollan also talks about about the energy that comes from the food we consume, and when it comes to corn, are we using it efficiently? Apparently, eating corn directly is using all of the energy it has to offer. When we get the energy second hand from another animal, 90 percent of its energy is lost, going to things like bone, feathers, fur, etc. He says that “every step up the chain reduces the amount of food energy by a factor of ten.”pg 118. Pollen then goes on to make a final point that made a great impact on me; thats much food energy is lost during the making of something we might so often consume from a fast food chain today. So much so, that eating an item off the menu could feed so many more mouths than just mine. Isn’t that a true waste? Shouldn’t we be ashamed?

This novel emphasizes the idea that one single resource can be distributed in a countless amount of ways. Pollan says very bluntly, “corn has done more than any other species to help the food industry realize the dream of freeing food from nature’s limitations and seducing the omnivore into eating more of a single plant than anyone would ever have thought possible.”pg 91. The more time goes on, the more advanced food technology is available to our disposal, the more uses of corn we seem to find.

One thing is for sure; The past life of corn has been fascinating, miraculous, and even worrisome. The future sure as hell should be interesting.



“While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the presidents signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to the be unhealthiest.”pg 108.



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