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Tribute to Corn and Soy: FYI, this will be lengthy, almost as lengthy as the amounts of fields we biked through

I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma on this trip and recently saw Food INC. and am at the point where I feel both in utter awe of corn and soy and also disgusted to the point that I don’t know if there is anything I can eat. I should have written this post around Illinois, which by the way, I didn’t even associate with corn production prior to this trip. But now, after seeing at least one corn field in almost every state, I can look back, slightly more educated and tell you what I learned. The following is both from the book and firsthand accounts of farmers.

The industry of corn can be a microcosm for what is happening in many industries around the world. Basically, the # of corn ↑ and the # of farmers ↓, or the yield of corn increases and the number of farmers needed to produce the corn decreases. Why? Because of technology, and instruments which one person can control, which one corporation can control, which ultimately means less jobs. And for what? ABUNDANCE and production.

I will explain this further, and will touch upon this semi-incoherent chain as well: Population increases→ Corn production increases→ Chemicals in the production increase→ More humans means more meat→ Faster means of production→ More chemicals in the food we eat, both vegetable and animal→ Fewer jobs as production speeds up→ Humans eat food with more chemicals→ Humans pay more for vitamin enhanced products→ Fat, poor, unemployed America

Let me back up. Each year, with the growing population of humans, the amount of corn produced increases. The main way it increases, is not only by planting more stalks (and taking over the rainforests), but by ensuring that each stalk produces more cobs. And they way that happens is through the use of GMOs, genetically modified organisms. When a kernel is infused with additional genes, it becomes a new hybrid, growing fatter and quicker. This is an exponential catapult that keeps on increasing.

This process happens every year, and every year, farmers have to buy the newest hybrid. They are not forced to, but if they do not, they will not produce a crop that can compete with their neighbors’. They will not make a living if they don’t have top notch kernels. They will not be able to compete with market price. The American farmer is the only part of this entire chain of production that is not able to climb any sort of economic ladder. As more and more small farms are bought out by the huge agri-businesses, the small-town, independent farmers are not receiving their subsidies because they are no longer employed. Who gets the government subsidies then? The huge, megalomaniac big companies because they are now the ones producing the corn. Thanks gov!

One crop of corn will be 47% animal feed, 24% fuel, 6% processed food, 4% high fructose corn syrup (remember the farmer I met who produced HFCS?), and the rest is used elsewhere sparingly.

Notice where the largest quantity of corn goes: to feed animals. 32 pounds of corn feed will yield 4 POUNDS OF MEAT. Also in the manufacturing process, vitamins and minerals are released. Once the factories have the isolated corn particles, they have to add back all of the nutritional value that was lost…hence costing the consumer more.

The Omnivore’s Dilema, as Michael Pollan puts it, is that in America, with our melting pot fusion of culture and food, we have nothing to fall back on, we don’t know anymore what is healthy for us. We don’t know what we can eat, and sometimes, people develop eating disorders; eating too little or sometimes too much. We had a solution for those who overeat ho. If people started feeling glutinous by buying two servings, McDonald’s and 7-11 created the supersize. The purpose of allowing people to buy more allowed them to feel like it was normal to consume 42 ounces of soda.

Another aspect is that food production has changed from an ecological loop, into a factory and is now almost entirely powered by fossil fuels. We (the American farmers) use chemical fertilizers to ensure that no natural bugs pollute the crops. These are primarily nitrogen infused insect killers based on poisons that were initially manufactured for warfare (Omnivore’s Dilemma). The fertilizer is also full of these poisons…here’s how: Approximately 70% of the corn and soy produced in the US goes to feed the animals that we eat, pigs, cattle, chickens. The animals eat and produce manure which is transformed back into fertilizer. Pretty straightforward, huh? ( This can be seen at: http://www.uq.edu.au/_School_Science_Lessons/6.65.3.GIF and http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/6/26/191251/537 and http://www.chem.info/Articles/2010/07/Alternative-Energy-Food-AND-Fuel/)

To end things for now, I will end with something else Pollan mentions in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Humans are the only species that will eat anything, except for rats. The only difference though, is that humans have the ability to build a body of knowledge which can tell us what is healthy for our bodies. We are what we eat. So choose wisely.

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