corn

A Quote by Jonathan Swift on corn, grow, politicians, mankind, help, and farmer

Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.

Jonathan Swift (1667 - 1745)

Contributed by: hellaD

A Quote by Michael Pollan on food, food supply, industrial agriculture, synthetic fertilizer, nitrogen, petroleum, and corn

Liberated from the old biological constraints. The farm could now be managed on industrial principles, as a factory transforming inputs of raw material – chemical fertilizer – into outputs of corn.  Since the farm no longer needs to generate and conserve its own fertility by maintaining a diversity of species, synthetic fertilizer opens the way to monoculture, allowing the farmer to bring the factory’s economies of scale and mechanical efficiency to nature.  If, as sometimes has been said, the discovery of agriculture represented the first fall of man from the state of nature, then the discovery of synthetic fertility is surely a second and precipitous fall.  Fixing nitrogen allowed the food chain to turn from the logic of biology and embrace the logic of industry.  Instead of eating exclusively from the sun, humanity now began to sip petroleum.

[Fritz Haber and the fixing of Nitrogen allowing synthetic fertilizer to be developed]

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 45

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on farm subsidies, monoculture, corn, agriculture, industrial agriculture, food, and food supply

Beginning in the fifties and sixties, the flood tide of cheap corn made it profitable to fatten cattle on feedlots instead of on grass, and to raise chickens in giant factories rather than in farmyards.  Iowa livestock farmers couldn’t compete with the factory- farmed animals their own cheap corn had helped spawn, so the chickens and cattle disappeared from the farm. and with them the pastures and hay fields and fences.  In their place the farmers  planted more of the one crop they could grow more of than anything else:  corn.  And whenever the price of corn slipped they planted a little more of it, to cover expenses and stay even.  By the 1980s the diversified family farm was history in Iowa, and corn was king.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 38

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on corn, c4, and carbon 4

At its most basic, the story of life on earth is the competition among species to capture and store as much energy as possible—either directly from the sun, in the case of plants, or, in the case of animals, by eating plants and plant eaters.  The energy is stored in the form of carbon molecules and measured in calories: The calories we eat, whether in an ear of corn or a steak, represent packets of energy once captured by a plant.  The C-4 trick helps explain the corn plant’s success in this competition: Few plants can manufacture quite as much organic matter (and calories) from the same quantities of sunlight and water and basic elements as corn. (Ninety-seven percent of what a corn plant is comes from the air, three percent from the ground.)

The trick doesn’t yet, however, explain how a scientist could tell that a given carbon atom in a human bone owes its presence there to a photosynthetic event that occurred in the leaf of one kind of plant and not another—in corn, say, instead of lettuce or wheat.  That’s because all carbon is not created equal. Some carbon atoms called isotopes, have more than the usual complement of six protons and six neutrons, giving them a slightly different atomic weight. C-13, for examples, has six protons and seven neutrons. (Hence “C-13.”) For whatever reason, when a C-4 plant goes scavenging for its four-packs of carbon, it takes in

more carbon 13 than ordinary—C-3—plants, which exhibit a marked preference for the more common carbon 12. Greedy for carbon, C-4 plants can’t afford to discriminate among isotopes, and so end up with relatively more carbon 13.The higher the ratio of carbon 13 to carbon 12 in a person’s flesh, the more corn has been in his diet—or in the diet of the animals he or she ate. (As far as we’re concerned, it makes little difference whether we consume relatively more or less carbon 13.)

One would expect to find a comparatively great deal of carbon 13 in the flesh of people whose staple food of choice is corn—Mexicans, most famously.  Americans eat much more wheat than corn—114 pounds of wheat flour per person per year, compared to 11 pounds of corn flour. The Europeans who colonized America regarded themselves as wheat people, in contrast to the native corn people they encountered; wheat in the West has always been considered the more refined, or civilized, grain. If asked to choose, most of us would probably still consider ourselves wheat people (except perhaps the proud corn-fed Midwesterners, and they don’t know the half of it), though by now the whole idea of identifying with a plant at all strikes us as a little old fashioned.  Beef people sounds more like it, though nowadays chicken people, which sounds not nearly so good, is probably closer to the truth of the matter. But carbon 13 doesn’t lie, and researchers who have compared the isotopes in the flesh or hair of North Americans to those in the same tissues of Mexicans report that it is now we in the North who are the true people of corn. “When you look at the isotope ratios,” Todd Dawson, a Berkeley biologist who’s done this sort of research, told me, “we North Americans look like corn chips with legs.” Compared to us, Mexicans today consume a far more varied diet: the animals they eat still eat grass (until recently, Mexicans regarded feeding corn to livestock as a sacrilege); much of their protein comes from legumes; and they still sweeten their beverages with cane sugar.

So that’s us: processed corn, walking.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 21...3

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on feedlots, cafco, mad cow disease, usda, food, food supply, beef, health, and corn

[Arrival at the CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation for a cow]

            The feed mill’s pulsing din is the sound of two giant steel rollers turning against one another twelve hours a day, crushing steamed corn kernels into warm fragrant flakes.  (Flaking the corn makes it easier for cattle to digest it.)  This was the only feed ingredient I sampled, and it wasn’t half bad; not as crisp as Kellogg’s flake, but with a cornier flavor.  I passed on the other ingredients:  the liquefied fat (which on today’s menu is beef tallow, trucked in from one of the nearby slaughter-houses), and the protein supplement, a sticky brown goop consisting of molasses and urea.  The urea is a form of synthetic nitrogen made from natural gas, similar to the fertilizer spread on George Naylor’s [one of the people visited by the author to research this book] fields.

            Before being put on this highly concentrated diet, new arrivals to the feed yard are treated to a few days of fresh long-stemmed hay.  (They don’t eat on the long ride and can lose up to one hundred pounds, so their rumens need to be carefully restarted.)  Over the next several weeks they gradually step up to a daily ration of thirty-two pounds of feed, three quarters of which is corn – nearly half a bushel a day.

            What got corn onto the menu in this and almost every other American feedlot is price, of course, but also USDA policy, which for decades has sought to help move the mountain of surplus corn by passing as much of it as possible through the digestive tracts of food animals, who can convert it into protein.

 

            We’ve come to think of “corn-fed” as some kind of old-fashioned virtue, which it may well be when you’re referring to Midwestern children, but feeding large quantities of corn to cows for the greater part of their lives is a practice neither particularly old nor virtuous.  Its chief advantage is that cows fed corn, a compact source of caloric energy, get fat quickly; their flesh also marbles well, giving it a taste and texture American consumers have come to like.  Yet this corn-fed meat is demonstrably less healthy for us, since it contains more saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of animals fed grass.  A growing body of evidence suggests that many of the health problems associated with eating beef are really problems with corn-fed beef.  (Modern-day-hunter-gatherers who subsist on wild meat don’t have our rates of heart disease.)  In the same way ruminants are ill adapted to eating corn,  humans in turn may be poorly adapted to eating ruminants that eat corn.

            Yet the USDA’s grading system has been designed to reward marbling (a more appealing term than “intramuscular fat,” which is what it is) and thus the feeding of corn to cattle.  Indeed, corn has become so deeply ingrained in the whole system of producing beef in America that whenever I raised any questions about it among ranchers or feedlot operators or animal scientists, people looked at me as if I’d just arrived from another planet.  (Or perhaps from Argentina, where excellent steaks are produced on nothing but grass.)

            The economic logic behind corn is unassailable, and on a factory farm there is no other kind.  Calories are calories, and corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories on the market.  Of course, it was the same industrial logic – protein is protein – that made feeding rendered cow parts back to cows seem like a sensible thing to do, until scientists figured out that this practice was spreading bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), most commonly known as mad cow disease.  Rendered bovine meat and bonemeal represented the cheapest, most convenient way of satisfying a cow’s protein requirement (never mind these animals were herbivores by evolution) and so appeared on the daily menus of Poky and most other feed yards until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the practice in 1997.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 74

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on corn, mcdonalds, food, and food supply

[Using a spectrometer to track the corn carbon]  ...Dawson and his colleague Stefania Mambelli prepared an analysis showing roughly how much of the carbon in the various McDonald’s menu items came from corn, and plotted them on a graph.  The sodas came out on top, not surprising since they consist of little else than corn sweetener, but virtually everything else we ate revealed a high proportion of corn, too.  In order of diminishing corniness, this is how the laboratory measured our meal:  soda (100% corn), milk shake (78%), salad dressing (65%), chicken nuggets (56%), cheeseburger (52%), and French fries (23%).  What in the eyes of the omnivore looks like a meal of impressive variety turns out, when viewed through the eyes of the mass spectrometer, to be the meal of a far more specialized kind of eater.  But then, this is what the industrial eater has become: corn’s koala.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 116

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on food, food supply, high fructose corn syrup, corn, health, subsidies, farming, farm subsidies, and george naylor

Corn is not the only source of cheap energy in the supermarket – much of the fat added to processed foods comes from soybeans – but it is by far the most important.  As George Naylor said, growing corn is the most efficient way to get energy – calories – from an acre of Iowa farmland.  That corn-made calorie can find its way into our bodies in the form of an animal fat, a sugar, or a starch, such is the protean nature of carbon in that big kernel.  But as productive and protean as the corn plant is, finally it is a set of human choices that have made these molecules quite as cheap as they have become: a quarter of a century of farm policies designed to encourage the overproduction of this crop and hardly any other.  Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots.  While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 108

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on factory farms, corn, biodiversity, agriculture, food, and food supply

... Corn’s triumph is the direct result of its overproduction, and that has been a disaster for the people who grow it.  Growing corn and nothing but corn has also exacted a toll on the farmer’s soil, the quality of the local water and the overall health of his community, the biodiversity of his landscape, and the health of all those creatures living on or downstream from it.  And not only those creatures, for cheap corn has also changed, and much for the worse, the lives of several billion food animals, animals that would not be living on factory farms if not for the ocean of corn on which these animal cities float.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 118

Contributed by: HeyOK

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