The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Corn people

Rachael Conlin Levy
Photo courtesy of boopsie.daisy. Photographer’s work is available for sale at Etsy.

I’ve been gobbling up Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” but thought I’d take a break from my reading binge and share why I’m grateful for this good read.

The book begins by examining the conquest of corn and industrialization of the food chain. Pollan argues that we are walking, talking stalks of corn — or more precisely, processed corn. How’s this possible? Apparently, corn is incognito: It’s in the syrup that sweetens soda and the wax that coats our apples. Corn feeds the steer, the chicken, the pig, the turkey, and even salmon.

How do scientists know we are “corn chips with legs,” as one biologist put it? There’s an isotope in corn that allows it to be tracked within our human tissue, much the same way scientists can determine the ancient diet of mummies using a piece of fingernail. But is the triumph of corn so terrible? Pollan believes it’s to blame for America’s growing waistline and our sickening environment.

A quarter century of government farm policies has encouraged the overproduction of this crop, and the industrialized food chain has made processed foods the cheapest in the supermarket. Corn-made calories can find our way into our bodies as a sugar, a starch or as a form of animal fat. “Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots,” Pollan writes.

Growing only corn has ruined the farmer’s soil, the quality of local water, the biodiversity of the Midwest, and the health of all the creatures living downstream. Cheap corn created the feedlot, where steer are fattened up before slaughter. Surviving on corn diets, many suffer from bloat and develop ulcerated livers.

Given such sobering news, I’m going to propose a game of hide and seek. Spend a little time searching for the corn in the products you eat and use. Involve your kids, keep a running tally, write down the ones that really surprise you, and, finally, share what you’ve discovered. Click here for a printable list of corn aliases, courtesy of Corn Allergens.

“There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn,” Pollan writes. “This goes for the nonfood items as well — everything from the toothpaste and cosmetics to the disposable diapers, trash gas, cleansers, charcoal briquettes, matches, and batteries, right down to the shine on the cover of the magazine that catches your eye by the checkout: corn.”

The hunt is on!

One response to “Corn people”

  1. Marty E. says:

    Wow. That’s amazing stuff, says I.

    Yesterday, I just finished some leftover corn pudding. Better be careful.

    The problem is…it’s so darn good…

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