One of the main points of the first section of this work is that there are significant problems with industrial agriculture, which is what produces the vast majority of the food we consume, especially corn, which is highly versatile, easy to grow and can feed large swathes of people…
Contrary to the main point of The Omnivore Dilemma, however, that part of the difficulty for humans is choosing their food is that we have too much choice, that we can eat anything we want. The problem, however, is that we do not actually have that great a degree of choice and that the factors that determine the crops we grow are in fact outside of our control. It is impossible to simply choose better, safer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly food because the food we grow is determined by the complex interaction of population, food-consumption style, and climate. In order to truly be the masters of our destiny in terms of food production, we must control the factors that determine what food we plant. Corn is in many ways a wonder food and in many ways a dangerous food. Corn can be produced in quantities that far exceed other plants (Pollan 2006, 36), and is incredibly versatile, functioning as everything from feedstock (65) to the sugars in sodas and candies (85). This means that corn is the product of choice for most food production – in a single meal, nearly everything you eat can be a corn product in some way or another (111). This leads to problems, however. Firstly, heavy reliance on a single crop is incredibly dangerous from a food security perspective - an insect that develops the ability to eat it in high quantities and resisting pesticides, or a phage that targets the plant could lead to significant food shortages. Likewise, corn products are not always the most healthy – the high-fructose corn syrup that is in nearly every junk food on the planet is associated with heart disease and diabetes, two of the most serious killers in North America. So, realistically, there would be many benefits to breaking our addiction to corn (and other similarly homogenous cereal crops) and diversifying our planting to a wider variety of food products. But unfortunately, this is near to impossible because of the pressures that actually decide what kinds of food we plant. Forces other than free choice force the determination of what crops we plant. The first of these forces is population. Corn and other cereal crops’ incredibly high yields have led to a population explosion the like of which the human race has never seen before. And the fact is, this means that we now need these high yield crops in order to maintain the population and avoid even greater mass starvation than is already occurring. Population in many ways forces us to grow the crops we do. The second major force is lifestyle – a great deal of the crops we produce are used to feed livestock, which are incredibly inefficient uses of food resources from the human perspective – only about one-tenth of the energy used to feed the animal a human eats actually makes it to the human(68). So the widespread consumption of meat in our society is another major factor inducing the growth of corn. A final factor is climate – as climate changes rapidly it is important to grow crops that can endure a wide variety of conditions, and corn has shown that it is able to do this – it can be grown anywhere from Brazil to Canada, and can endure significant swings in temperature, rain and so on without failing, unlike many other crops. ...
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