the omnivore’s dilemma

I don’t know how I’m ever supposed to eat anything ever again. How am I even suppose to leave my house or do anything, ever? It’s all so depressing. everything you do, everything you eat, every move you make, it’s all doing horrible awful things to the world and to your own body. My mere existence is ruining my life.

Let me explain.

I am reading this book right now, omnivore’s dilemma, and it’s so good, but jesus on a skateboard, it’s rough stuff. you thought fast food nation was disturbing? this will just make you crazy. It can be very overwhelming, because nothing is as simple as it seems. You aren’t just going to the grocery store and buying a package off the shelf. It is so much more involved than that, and even though I’m only a quarter of the way in, already I am beginning to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. The writer, Michael Pollan (who if you remember wrote this article that I linked to many a moon ago), decides to trace the food on our plate back to the source, from one end of the food chain to the other.

It all starts with corn. You have no idea (hell maybe you do and I’m just your typical fat ignorant american) what corn is about. Corn, simple all-american corn. It’s basically the reason for our success as a nation, and for our failure. really. Corn!

As he says, “…the omnivore’s dilemma has deep roots in the modern food industry, roots that, I found, reach all the way back to fields of corn growing in places like Iowa.” (side note: bill maher was on david letterman the other night, and they were talking about the caucuses in Iowa. Maher said there was a reason that it happens first in Iowa–corn. I thought he was being his typical ultraliberal self, but turns out he’s more right than wrong. Yeah, he’s nuts, but he’s right.) It’s in fucking everything we eat and everything we use. Over 25% of the product in a supermarket contains corn. Did you know that? Pollan gives a short quick list of food and product that use corn in one form or another; it’s truly astounding.

Right now, it costs more for farmers to grow their corn than they can get selling it. They get farm subsidies from the government, with many farmers’ incomes more than half made up by them. And they’re still broke. So the only thing they can do is grow even more corn, further increasing supply and keeping the prices low. Which is just how the government and agri-businesses want it.

“Moving that mountain of cheap corn–finding the people and animals to consume it, the cars to burn it, the new products to absorb it, and the nations to import it–has become the principle task of the industrial food system, since the supply of corn vastly exceeds the demand.” He calls it commodity corn.

And only two companies buy somewhere near a third of all the corn grown in America! Naturally, those two companies (Cargill and ADM) have a disheartening amount of influence over US agricultural policies, so don’t expect things to get better anytime soon. Cargill is the world’s largest privately held company. And neither sells directly to the public, so they have no interest or obligation in letting Pollan or anyone behind the scenes.

It’s so fucked up.

Anyway, like I said, I’m only a quarter of the way through. I can only imagine it will get worse. I’ve just started in on his examination of the steer in the feedlots. It’s hard. In the meantime, I’ll share a few other quotes from the book.

“We are not only what we eat, but how we eat, too.”

“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… Eating puts us in touch with all that we share with the other animals, and all that sets us apart. It defines us.”

“A great many of our health and environmental problems created by our food system owe to our attempts to oversimplify nature’s complexities, at both the growing and the eating ends of our food chain. At either side of any food chain, you find a biological system–a patch of soil, a human body–and the health of one is connected–literally–to the health of the other. Many of the problems of health & nutrition we face today trace back to things that happen on the farm, and behind those things stand specific government policies few of us know anything about.”

“The short, unhappy life of a corn-fed feedlot steer represents the ultimate triumph of industrial thinking over the logic of evolution.”

and here’s the thing I need to keep in mind, as evidenced by my lament in the first paragraph of this post: “To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction.”

Michael Pollan admits this book isn’t for everyone. For those of you afraid such a book will ruin your appetite, as it surely will, he tells you that “in the end this is a book about the pleasures of eating, the kinds of pleasure that are only deepened by knowing.” Who among us doesn’t want their pleasure deepened?

on a completely unrelated note, I swear to you I comb my hair everyday, I do, I even wash it (well not every day, jesus, what do you think this is, television?) but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me, I look like a homeless person. it’s all messy all the time. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

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4 thoughts on “the omnivore’s dilemma

  1. christa Post author

    you are a bitter old man, marianne.

    no in all seriousness, this book isn’t righteous, even if I’m making it seem that way. it’s good. I swear. I swear!

  2. annie

    I really really really want to read that book! I heard lots and lots about it when it came out, esp. the stuff about corn. Have you gotten to the part where he says that we’re actually MADE OF CORN? That our carbon molecules are actually corn molecules? We’re giant walking corncobs!

    My friend’s sister is something called a “freegan,” which means she only eats food she either forages (i.e. dumpster dives for) or grows herself, which is fairly righteous, but also gross. She apparently has a tapeworm. So righteous is not always the best thing for your intestinal track.

  3. christa Post author

    hi annie!! I am happy to see you. welcome!

    You should definitely read this book, it’s so good. And yes, I did get to that part. I couldn’t believe it either. I like when he says we’re “Corn Walking.”

    lousy corn.

    I have never heard of freegan before. Is this a real thing? I had no idea. That’s pretty admirable, but you’re right…very gross. And a tapeworm? sheesh. righteousness will always get you in the end. or in the intestines.

    you know, I’ve kind of always wanted a tapeworm, because sure they’re gross, but they are awesome for weight loss. and really, isn’t that what matters? not that you have a worm inside you but that you’re thin?

    Yes. Yes it is.

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