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Omnivore’s Dilemma Chapter 1-3

November 3, 2008

Little Mushroom, originally uploaded by Picture Taker 2.

By now most people have probably read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” but I’m (N.) a little late to the game. We stopped buying books about 6 months ago and for awhile we were going to the library every week but now that we’ve moved and our schedules are busier we haven’t been reading much. When I was out on Block Island though I was without TV so while browsing one of the island’s two bookstores I saw this book and decided it was about time I read it. I’m going through it slowly and will post my thoughts on it in small sections. This way I’ll have the time and concentration to highlight everything and it gives me quite a few blog posts! 😉

The book is divided into three sections: corn, grass and forest. And this review will cover chapters one through three which are all within the corn section. Some of the facts and figures he highlights were also mentioned in King Korn. Both this book and that documentary will make you take a hard look at how prevalent corn is in our lives and why that’s so.

An interesting fact that only garnered a small mention in the book is the current rise in soybean production. When corn is grown in the same patch of ground year after year its more prone to insects and disease. So rather then letting the soil lay fallow farmers take turns between corn and soybeans year after year. This explains why soybeans are starting to find their way into more and more food and non food products. Soybeans are being fed to animals as well as being present in ” two-thirds of all processed food.” I’m sure most of us know that soybeans can be used for biofuels but now they are being used in installation and passed off as a green alternative. At first glance finding multiple uses for soybeans may seem green because they are “natural” and they are already being grown but the truth is soybeans are becoming more prevalent for the same reason that corn did, it’s cheap and we have an excess supply that we have to do something with. When the reality is that soybean production increases the use of fertilizer and pesticides which in turn increases pollution in our air and water. After all it was the “flood tide of cheap corn [that] made it profitable to fatten cattle on feedlots instead of on grass and to raise chickens in giant factories rather than in farmyards.”

Inextricably bound to the rise of corn was the rise of the chemical fertilizer industry. In 1947 the government found itself with a surplus of ammonium nitrate, previously used in explosives. Corn consumes “more fertilizer than any other crop” and therefore benefited greatly from the new industry. In fact Pollan notes that the first order the Chinese government placed after opening to the west in the 1970’s was for thirteen massive fertilizer factories.

Pollan obviously goes into much more detail about the rise of corn as well as chemical fertilizers. By the end of Chapter 3 you will know the role corn played in our lives for centuries (a source of food and survival) to the role it plays now (an interchangeable commodity). It seems corn is no longer valued as sustenance and more important for its ability to be used in just about anything imaginable.

If you are interested in learning more you can check out the rest of the chapter below:

Chapter 4 The Feedlot: Making Meat
Chapter 5-6 The Processing Plant: Making Complex Foods & The Consumer a Republic of Fat
Chapter 7 The Meal: Fast Food
Chapter 8 All Flesh is Grass

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