“The Cornification of our food system”

Pollan, M. 2006. Omnivore’s Dilemma . England: Penguin Books Ltd. p.15-119

Pollan brings all sides of the corn industry to the table in “Omnivore’s Dilemma” . He examines the historical, economical and political sides of corn’s evolution of domestication. He looks through the lives of society (farmer of the corn fields), animals and obviously the plants eye view . One of Pollan’s goals throughout these pages was to investigate all aspects of the distance corn travels to get to our dinner plate.

Pollan examines how corn, from the plants perspective, has “conquered more of the earth’s surface than virtually any other domesticated species” (p.20) – although success in nature seemed near impossible, that is since manual removal of the husk and seeds is essential for reproduction (p.27). Moreover, corn has manipulated humans to do this task for them; essentially, “humans played a critical supporting role in [corn’s] rise to world domination” (p.23).

Initially this story seems light and playful but it quickly turns over to corn’s more dark and depressing side.

Through his investigation Pollan reveals the detrimental impacts the evolution of corn has directly and indirectly unfolded upon the environment and human kind. From the “creation of dead zones and unsafe drinking water” (p.47) from over application of crop fertilizers on monoculture farms to “polluted water and air, toxic waste, and pathogens”(p.67) as a result of mass cattle production.

“Corn is what feeds the steer” (p.18) – Pollan quickly starts off this chapter by clearly stating one of the most influential aspects driving the boost in corn production… that is, the production of cattle feed. Cheap corn feed has drastically made cattle (beef) production more effective over the years – unnatural consumption of corn feed has sped up the period it takes cattle to reach slaughter weight from around 4 or 5 years old to merely 16 months (p.71). It is apparent that this shift to a corn based diet is detrimental to the cattle’s health. Pollan uncovers that “virtually all of them to one degree or another… are simply sick” and are selected for their ability to effectively convert corn feed into protein without getting too sick (p.47). It sickens me to read Dr. Metzin’s statement “what keeps feed lot animals healthy or healthy enough.. are antibiotics” (p.78). \

BUT what is “healthy enough” for human consumption? and who decides this??.. AND at what point is this going to be seriously considered inhumane?

Pollan continues to follow the corn cob trail into the factory where corn will be processed into corn starch and eventually high fructose corn syrup (mostly). He discovers how when you take into account water waste, chemicals, labour, additives etc… how “energy-intensive” this process can be. To produce 1 calorie of product it takes 10 calories of fossil fuels burned (p.88).

After I read this I felt just like Pollan: “hungry was the last thing I felt” (p.84), moreover I am happy to be a vegetarian!

lastly, WTF McDonald’s? 38 ingredients in chicken nuggets – EW! (p.112)


Thanks for your time – Cheers!

Jenna May Kavanagh



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