food supply

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 eating, agriculture, food, and food supply

Another theme, or premise really, is that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds. Agriculture has done more to reshape the natural world than anything else we humans do, both its landscapes and the composition of its flora and fauna. Our eating also constitutes a relationship with dozens of other species—plants, animals, and fungi— with which we have coevolved to the point where our fates are deeply entwined. Many of these species have evolved expressly to gratify our desires, in the intricate dance of domestication that has allowed us and them to prosper together as we could never have prospered apart.  But our relationships with the wild species we eat—from the mushrooms we pick in the forest to the yeasts that leaven our bread—are no less compelling, and far more mysterious. Eating puts us in touch with all that we share with the other animals, and all that sets us apart. It defines us.

What is perhaps most troubling, and sad, about industrial eating is how thoroughly it obscures all these relationships and connections.  To go from the chicken (Gallus gallus) to the Chicken McNugget is to leave this world in a journey of forgetting that could hardly be more costly, not only in terms of the animal’s pain but in our pleasure, too. But forgetting, or not knowing in the first place, is what the industrial food chain is all about, the principal reason it is so opaque, for if we could see what lies on the far side of the increasingly high walls of our industrial agriculture, we would surely change the way we eat.

“Eating is an agricultural act,” as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world—and what is to become of it.  To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound

like a burden, but in practice few things in life afford quite as much satisfaction. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting. Many people today seem perfectly content eating at the end of an industrial food chain, without a thought in the world: this book is probably not for them; there are things in it that will ruin their appetite. But in the end this is a book about the pleasures of eating, the kind of pleasures that are only deepened by knowing.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 10

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on eating disorder, food, food supply, diets, diet, and health

I N T RODUCTION

OUR NATIONAL EATING DISORDERSR

What should we have for dinner?

This book is a long and fairly involved answer to this seemingly simple question. Along the way, it also tries to figure out how such a simple question could ever have gotten so complicated. As a culture we seem to have arrived at a place where whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety. Somehow this most elemental of activities—figuring out what to eat—has come to require a remarkable amount of expert help. How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?

For me the absurdity of the situation became inescapable in the fall of 2002, when one of the most ancient and venerable staples of human life abruptly disappeared from the American dinner table. I’m talking of course about bread. Virtually overnight, Americans changed the way the way they eat. A collective spasm of what can only be described as carbophobia seized the country, supplanting an era of national lipophobia dating to the Carter administration. The latter was when, in 1977, a Senate committee had issued a set of “dietary goals” warning beefloving Americans to lay off the red meat. And so we dutifully had, until now.

What set off the sea change? It appears to have been a perfect media storm of diet books, scientific studies, and one timely magazine article.  The new diet books, many of them inspired by the formerly discredited Dr. Robert C. Atkins, brought Americans the welcome news that they could eat more meat and lose weight just so long as they laid off the bread and pasta. These high-protein, low-carb diets found support in a handful of new epidemiological studies suggesting that the nutritional orthodoxy that had held sway in America since the 1970s might be wrong. It was not, as official opinion claimed, fat that made us fat, but the carbohydrates we’d been eating precisely in order to stay slim. So conditions were ripe for a swing of the dietary pendulum when, in the summer of 2002, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story on the new research entitled “What if Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat?”  Within months, supermarket shelves were restocked and menus rewritten to reflect the new nutritional wisdom.  The blamelessness of steak restored, two of the most wholesome and uncontroversial foods known to man—bread and pasta—acquired a moral stain that promptly bankrupted dozens of bakeries and noodle firms and ruined an untold number of perfectly good meals.

So violent a change in a culture’s eating habits is surely the sign of a national eating disorder. Certainly it would never have happened in a culture in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating. But then, such a culture would not feel the need for its most august legislative body to ever deliberate the nation’s “dietary goals”—or, for that matter, to wage political battle every few years over the precise design of an official government graphic called the “food pyramid.” A country with a stable culture of food would not shell out millions for the quackery (or common sense) of a new diet book every January. It would not be susceptible to the pendulum swings of food scares or fads, to the apotheosis every few years of one newly discovered nutrient and the demonization of another. It would not be apt to confuse protein bars or food supplements with meals or breakfast cereals with

medicines. It probably would not eat a fifth of its meals in cars or feed fully a third of its children at a fast-food outlet every day. And it surely would not be nearly so fat.

Nor would such a culture be shocked to discover that there are other countries, such as Italy and France, that decide their dinner questions on the basis of such quaint and unscientific criteria as pleasure and tradition, eat all manner of “unhealthy” foods, and, lo and behold, wind up actually healthier and happier in their eating than we are.  We show our surprise at this by speaking of something called the “French paradox,” for how could a people who eat such demonstrably toxic substances as foie gras and triple crème cheese actually be slimmer and healthier than we are? Yet I wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to speak in terms of an American paradox—that is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily.

Michael Pollan

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

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on food, food supply, feedlots, industrial farming, and health

... One of the most troubling things about factory farms is how cavalierly they flout these evolutionary rules, forcing animals to overcome deeply ingrained aversions.  We make them trade their instincts for antibiotics.

            Though the industrial logic that made feeding cattle to cattle seem like a good idea has been thrown into doubt by mad cow disease, I was surprised to learn it hadn’t been discarded.  The FDA ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants makes an exception for blood products and fat; my steer will probably dine on beef tallow recycled from the very slaughterhouse he’s headed to in June.  (“Fat is fat,” the feedlot manager shrugged, when I raised an eyebrow.)  Though Poky doesn’t do it, the rules still permit feedlots to feed nonruminant animal protein to ruminants.  Feather meal and chicken litter (that is, bedding, feces, and discarded bits of feed) are accepted cattle feeds, as are chicken, fish, and pig meal.  Some public health experts worry that since the bovine meat and bonemeal that cows used to eat is now being fed to chickens, pigs, and fish, infectious prions could find their way back into cattle when they’re fed the proteins of the animals that have been eating them.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 76

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 feedlot, cafo, beef, food, food supply, and health

This biological absurdity, characteristic of all CAFO’s, is compounded in the cattle feed yard by a second absurdity.  Here animals exquisitely adapted by natural selection to live on grass must be adapted by us – at considerable cost to their health, to the health of the land, and ultimately to the health of their  eaters – to live on corn, for no other reason than it offers the cheapest calories around and because the great pile must be consumed.  This is why I decided to follow the trail of industrial corn through a single steer rather than, say, a chicken or a pig, which can get by just fine on a diet of grain:  The short, unhappy life of a corn-fed feedlot steer represents the ultimate triumph of industrial thinking over the logic of evolution.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 68

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by Michael Pollan on value added, food, food supply, george naylor, farming, and agriculture

In fact, there are lots of good reasons to complicate your product – or, as the industry prefers to say, to “add value” to it.  Processing food can add months, even years, to its shelf life, allowing you to market globally.  Complicating your product also allows you to capture more of the money a consumer spends on food.  Of a dollar spent on a whole food such as eggs, $0.40 finds its way back to the farmer.  By comparison, George Naylor will see only $0.04 of every dollar spent on corn sweeteners; ADM and Coca-Cola and General Mills capture most of the rest.  (Every farmer I’d ever met eventually gets around to telling the story about the food industry executive who declared, “There’s money to be made in food, unless you’re trying to grow it.”)  When Tyson food scientists devised the chicken nugget in 1983, a cheap bulk commodity – chicken – overnight became a high-value-added product, and most of the money Americans spend on chicken moved from the farmer’s pocket to the processor’s.

Michael Pollan

Source: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Large Print Press), Pages: 95

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

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