As the most ubiquitous ingredient in processed foods, and the basis of the food chain for all industrially-raised meats and animal products in America, corn symbolizes the absurdity of the industrial food system. Michael Pollan argues that even the most synthetic American foods can be traced back to nature, and that therefore all of people’s choices have wide-reaching effects on the natural world. Corn is in fact the main ingredient in a dizzying array of processed foods, from soft drinks to cereals. Americans have the impression that they eat a rich and varied diet, but Pollan points out that the United States has become a “nation of corn eaters.” At no point in the longstanding and intimate relationship between humans and corn have people eaten so much corn, in so many different ways.
These unprecedently high levels of corn production come at a high cost, however—to the health of animals, humans, and the environment, and to the financial resources of the government, which heavily subsidizes corn farmers. High subsidies and production quotas have pushed farmers to produce more and more corn, driving down the price of the commodity and impoverishing farmers. (Counter-intuitively, the more productive farmers are, the more money they lose.) This surplus of corn is used to feed animals that are not adapted to eat it, leading to health problems in the animals and then in humans, who are similarly made unhealthy by overconsumption of corn. These absurdities demonstrate the ways in which the industrial food system has very significant costs and inefficiencies by most standards—and yet these concerns have been subjugated to the large profits made by the food businesses that dominate the agricultural economy. Corn symbolizes the effects of capitalism run amok, overtaking the food system and twisting the logic of the way people eat.
Corn Quotes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma
Our civilization and, increasingly, our food system are strictly organized on industrial lines. They prize consistency, mechanization, predictability, interchangeability, and economies of scale. Everything about corn meshes smoothly with the gears of this great machine; grass doesn’t.