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Omnivore’s Dilemma Chapter 5-6

November 13, 2008

Grapes/Napa Valley, originally uploaded by rbgphoto.


Chapter 5 is entitled “The Processing Plant” and it goes into a fair amount of detail on the technicalities that go into processing corn. I won’t repeat any of that here but I will tell you that corn can become many many things among them “adhesives, coatings, sizings, and plastics for industry; stabillizers, thickeners, gels, and viscosity-control agents” Makes you want to go out and grab a soda doesn’t it?

The process is long and mostly secret but the result after producing all these different products is virtually zero waste. The waste water can even be reused to make animal feeds. Looking at it from this perspective you could almost pretend this process is green. But did you know that corn is the key constituent of “margarine, Tang, Cheez Whiz and Cool Whip”? Those are all essentially food imitators they can provide sustenance but they won’t really sustain us.

Chapter 6 is entitled “The Consumer” and I’m sure you can guess the topic at hand. Today is not the first time we’ve attempted to combat an overabundance of corn by finding new and potentially dangerous uses for it. In the early 19th century an excess of corn turned into a nationwide bender. The corn was turned into whiskey so that it would be easier transport and last longer. Today we are able to create many more things then whiskey so instead of going out and getting drunk people are hitting up the all you can eat buffet. “Three of every five Americans are overweight;one of every five is obese.”

So you may ask yourself with all the options why is so much corn turned into high fructose corn syrup? Well it turns out our desire for sweets surpasses all others and results in “17.5 billion pounds of high fructose corn syrup” being produced each year. Most of this is consumed through soft drinks and I have to admit J. and I both still drink soda every now and then. We are also guiltly of supersizing our sodas to get our money’s worth. This concept of supersizing has resulted in much of the additional calories and HFCS that we all now consume. “The power of food science lies in its ability to break foods down into their nutrient parts and then reassemble them in specific ways that, in effect, push our evolutionary buttons, fooling the omnivore’s inherited food selection system. Add fat or sugar to anything and it’s going to taste better on the tongue of an animal that natural selection has wired to seek out energy-dense foods.” That’s quite a mouthful but is basically scientific rational for why you really like chicken nuggets!

Many of you eco conscious readers may say “so what?” You don’t frequent fast food joints and have already cut out HFCS from your diet. Well what you should still care out is the people that have the choice to spend $1 and they can get “1,200 calories of potato chips and cookies” or 250 calories worth of carrots. People with very limited budgets are going to see these cheap calories as the best bang for their buck. And this decision is helping to drive the rates of obesity and diabetes through the roof.

I think the take away message is that it’s one thing to make individual choices to cut these products out of your diet but we have a responsibility to lobby for healthier food choices for all.

Chapter 1-3 The Plant: Corn’s Conquest, The Farm, & The Elevator
Chapter 4 The Feedlot: Making Meat

Chapter 7 The Meal: Fast Food
Chapter 8 All Flesh is Grass

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2008 8:25 am

    We’ve also tried to cut them out of our diet and encourage our friends and family to do it as well. The only problem is that people often give us that, “Oh, you poor crazy healt nut, corn syrup is natural” look.

  2. November 13, 2008 7:43 pm

    One of my best friends has an extremely limited income and doesn’t cook. She basically lives on High fructose corn syrup in the forms of chips and sodas, not only for the flavor and addictive qualities of these foods, but because they are so filling – at least before the sugar crash. Few people understand that impoverished people make poor food choices not simply out of ignorance but for the comfort of immediate and relatively lasting gratification.


  1. Omnivore’s Dilemma Chapter 1-3 « Bad Human! Don’t take chemicals from strangers!

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