Friday, August 26, 2011

As Far As the Eye Can See

"Corn, corn, corn, as far as the eye can see...."

I've finished Part I: Industrial: Corn, of The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.

[Corn credits: endless corn, via, Doug Snodgrass;
Corn up close, via Wikipedia, Christian Fischer, ZeaMays]

I told you there would be more corn before this weekend's Sweet Corn Blue Festival! And this is indeed sweet corn we'll be eating in the street while listening to sweet blues. Pollan's opening section was on "industrial" corn, the agribusiness of corn, feed corn, field corn.

Corn is a grass, but not the kind of grass cows naturally eat. They have to be taught to eat corn, and, in the feedlot, it comes in a trough in a mashed, fat-laced, liquidy form. (Eww.)

I was sad when the calf Pollan was tracking had to leave his mother. Remember Dumbo?! Yes, even some feedlot-destined cattle get to spend the first year eating grass with their mothers. But then off they go to eat corn and antibiotics instead of grass. Antibiotics because they stand close together and on manure, which has a lot of bacteria in it.

"Hell," said Dr. Mel, the vet, "if you gave them lots of grass and space, I'd be out of a job."

At the end of the corn section, which lays out all the specific evidence, Pollan reminds us of the farmer's dilemma--having to grow more and more corn (or corn in rotation only with soybeans) just to get by, and that's on the big farms. The small farms already went under. "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 the creatures living on or downstream from it." That phrase, "living downstream," made me look in the back of the book--index, notes, and sources--for Sandra Steingraber. Though I did not find her book Living Downstream there, Steingraber and Pollan must be fully aware of each other's work, as both are interested in health, ecology, and the environment, and in the we-are-what-we-eat (drink, and breathe) dilemma.

I did find Ruth L. Ozeki's book My Year of Meats, which Pollan calls a "[v]ery funny, well-researched novel about the U.S. meat industry." I agree.

And I'm old enough to remember the "Where's the beef?" commercial.

Where's the beef? In the feedlot, eating corn.


Hannah Stephenson said...

Oh my lord....Dumbo kills me. I still can't watch it (it just makes me cry).

The food industry is so complicated and frustrating. Glad you're sharing meaningful stuff from this book.

Kathleen said...

More on Steingraber tomorrow!

Maureen said...

I've read a lot of Steingraber, including her poetry. Have also posted about her on WWP. Her Website is worth a visit. Surprised Pollan did not acknowledge her.

Kathleen said...

Me, too, re: reading Steingraber! Maybe their work is parallel...but I will note some compare/contrast moments in tomorrow's blog!

Sandy Longhorn said...

This just makes me so sad because I love the sight of all that corn, yet I know how devastating its production has become. Sigh.

Collagemama said...

Enjoy the mushroom section. I agree, getting through the corn section was brutal.

Kathleen said...

I love the corn, too, Sandy. My parents enjoy the "bean" years for the vista and the "corn" for safe enclosure in the wall of corn.

But I hope we find a way to change our food production and restore our farming practices for the health of all and the good of the environment. Tough super tough political and economic times. Sigh....