Would you like some corn with that?
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 11:09
Have you ever looked at the ingredients of a food product and didn’t even know what half of them were or even how to pronounce some of them? Specifically, soft drinks, frozen TV dinners, candy or other highly processed foods? What are these words, how is it food, where does it come from? I found myself asking these questions a lot until I was told about The Omnivores Dilemma, a book by Michael Pollan.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma discusses the issue that humans, as omnivores, face when it comes to answering the question: what should I eat? As omnivores, we can eat just about anything – which was very handy when we, as a species, were hunter-gatherers. However, now it has become more of an issue since we can access such a variety of foods.
But how much variety do we actually have? When walking into a grocery store, you’re almost always met with the produce section. A bountiful supply of different fruits and vegetables; it would appear that the store offers us a wide variety of healthy food options. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the variety stops there; turn down an aisle and you are met with snack foods, condiments, drinks, cereal and other processed foods. All of these items share a commonality: they each have long ingredient lists that include such things as modified starch, unmodified starch, glucose syrup, crystalline fructose, lactic acid, MSG, caramel color, xanthan gum, maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, ascorbic acid, lecithin and mono-, di- and triglycerides. Now what are these things you might ask? It’s simple: they’re corn.
Corn is now the headliner in a one man show called the food industry. Corn has become the primary (if not only) staple of any farm animal’s diet. Chickens, cows, pigs and even fish are all fed corn (or corn product). This means the meat, eggs and dairy products we consume all come from corn. Taken a step further, we can see that corn is pulled apart and put back together like Lego. Corn provides the carbohydrates (sugars and starch) and soybeans provide the protein and with these two plants, scientist have been able to make just about everything.
An excerpt from The Omnivore’s Dilemma reads, “See those chicken nuggets in the freezer case? They are really corn wrapped up in more corn. The chicken was fed corn. The batter is made from corn flour. The starch that holds it together is corn starch. The oil it was fried in was corn oil.” Corn is a bit of a wonder plant, it has essentially been manipulated by science so that it can provide an entire meal – essentially a fast food meal.
How people connect with the natural world used to be through food; now, people eat things without knowing what is in them, how they were grown or what they were fed. An excellent example provided by The Omnivore’s Dilemma is how we grow potatoes: massive circular fields with irrigation pipeline rotating in a circle, like the hand of a clock, dispensing water, fertilizer and pesticides. One of these pesticides is called Monitor. According to its Material Safety Data Sheet, Monitor is fatal if swallowed, inhaled and may be fatal if absorbed through skin. This insecticide is so lethal that no one is allowed in the field for five days once it’s sprayed. In addition, if their machine breaks down a farmer would rather sacrifice the entire crop then risk sending someone out to fix the problem. The potatoes get saturated in pesticides so that they kill any bug, or really anything, that takes a bite. After the harvest, the potatoes are stored in a shed for six months until the chemicals slowly fade away and they are safe to eat. This is how we grow potatoes.
I urge you to become more aware of what you put into your body. After all, we are what we eat and right now we’re walking corn.
For more information on how and why corn has permeated every inch of the food industry check out Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (available at the James A. Gibson library), or the young readers edition The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat.