Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Michael Pollan and The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan has revolutionalized the way that I am raising my family. It is a natural history of four meals. My husband and I found in find in the book information that benefits not only my own desires to fine tune what we eat, but to possibly stave off the very diseases our genetics make us more prone to develop. I have been quoting this book with an online Mom's group I have been with since pregnant with our 2 year old son. It is an expose of modern day markets and how they have been pervasively altered by big businesses and their food products.

Here on my blog, I am sharing many of the quotes I have taken out of the book and the conversation it generated with these other Moms. it felt imperative to me to extend this educational book with some of our nations greatest food consumers - mothers. We are what we eat, and it is about time for us to take a look at what we really are buying at the super market and fast food chains. We need to try to know, where our food comes from, and what it is made of. I am astonished at how far reaching Frankenfoods have gone. Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic and if I recall correctly diabetes is also reaching an all time high.

The very premise of Pollan's book is, "in response to the up rise of "carbophobia" as a result of Atkins etc. that the author describes as a violent change in a nations eating habits... "

"So violent a change in a culture's eating habits is surely a 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 it's 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 and food supplements with meals or breakfast bars and 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. "

and later

"Another theme, or premise really, is that the way we eat represent 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 flora and fauna. Our eating also constitutes a relationship with dozens of other species - plants, animals, and fungi - with which we have co-evolved to the point where our fates are deeply entwined. Many of the 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. ... Eating puts us in touch with all that we share with other animals, and all that sets is apart. It defines us."

Corn has become the corner stone of America's industrialized food industry. Corn and all its by products are used to feed not only us but the livestock we eat - which is not what they are supposed to eat. It is a plant that has become ubiquitous in our diet. It's abundance is morphed into all things that we used to get naturally, and we now lack the benefits of the things corn has now taken the place of. Here is a list of all the corn byproducts in our food system. So without further ado, here's my newest installation from The Omnivore's Dilemma :

"The great edifice of variety and choice that is an American supermarket turns out to rest on a remarkably narrow biological foundation comprised of a ... single species: Zea Mays, the giant tropical grass most Americans know as corn.
Corn feeds the steer that becomes steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pic, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia, and increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farms are re-engineering to tolerate corn. The eggs are made of corn. The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically come from Holsteins that spend their working lived indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.
A chicken nugget for example, piles corn upon corn: what chicken it contains exists of corn...including the modified corn starch that glues it all together, the corn flour that coats it... the corn oil its fried in...Much less obviously is the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-, di-, and triglycerides, the attractive golden coloring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nuggets "fresh" can all be derived from corn.
Since the 1980's virtually all the sodas and most of the fruit drinks sold int he supermarket have been sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) - after water, corn sweetener is their principal ingredient. grab a beer for your beverage instead, and you'd still be drinking corn, in the form of alcohol fermented from glucose refined from corn. For modified or unmodified starch, for glucose syrup and maltodextrin, for crystalline fructose and ascorbic acid, for lecithin and dextrose, lactic acid and lysine, for maltose and HFCS, for MSG and polyols, for the caramel color and xantham gum, read: CORN. Corn is in the coffee whitener and Cheez whiz, the frozen yogurt and TV dinner, the canned fruit and ketchup and candies, the soups and snacks and cake mixes, the frosting and gravy and waffles, the syrups and hot sauces, the mayonnaise and mustard, the hot dogs and bologna, the margarine and shortening, the salad dressings and the relishes and even the vitamins.
There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them contain corn.
...Compared to us, Mexicans today consume a far more varied diet... the animals they eat still feed on grass... much of their protein comes from legumes; and they still sweeten their beverages with cane sugar.
So, that's us - processed corn, walking. "

In the chapter about corn, the author goes to Iowa to learn about a farm and the family that has lived there for many generations. In the line of the degredation of the family farm and the BOOM of corn industry he learns more and more about the morph of the farms and industry...

p. 39

"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 then anything else: corn. And whenever the price of corn slipped they planted a little more of it, to cover their expenses and stay even. By the 1980s the diversified family farm was history in Iowa, and corn was king. "

AND THIS is what we have all grown up on....

Maybe it really is time to take a look at what we are doing to our children, beginning with the food that they eat.

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