As mentioned earlier, a huge portion of the book is devoted to discussing corn. Why? Check out Part 1. It should be noted that the problem is not necessarily corn. It’s the amount of corn…and the type of corn. The corn grown today is genetically engineered. In the 1920’s, 20 bushels of corn could be grown on 1 acre of soil; now, 180 bushels of corn is grown on 1 acre of soil. It’s taken a whole lot of engineering to modify the corn crop enough to make it grow in such close quarters, and so big and tall, and with so many kernels. But it’s not just the genetic engineering. It’s the fertilizer. To me, here lies the bigger problem.
In 1947, the decision was made to use leftover ammonium nitrate from WWII on farmland as fertilizer, as it contains nitrogen, which plants need. (Don’t forget that there is a great process that Mother Nature put in place to help plants fix nitrogen.) The chemical fertilizer industry, along with that of pesticides, which are based on poison gases developed for the WWII, was the product of the government’s efforts to convert it war machine to peacetime purposes. As one activist notes in the passage, “We’re still eating the leftovers of WWII” (41). The man credited with the invention of fertilizer is the same man who promoted the Nazi wartime efforts by inventing chemical warfare in WWI and the gas that was used in the chambers of concentration camps in WWII. Ironically, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize…That’s right. We’re putting chemical warfare on our crops, specifically the crop that makes up the majority of the food we eat! The book below (all about Fritz Haber, may have to make it’s way onto my To-Be-Read list, or the movie entirely in German, although I don’t think I speak it well enough to follow) discusses the invention of chemical warfare and the ultimate invention of fertilizer.
Now, making fertilizers relies on fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas…), and when you add together the natural gas in the fertilizer, and the fossil fuels it takes to make the pesticides, drive the tractors, and harvest the crops, dry the crops, and transport the crops, you find that each barrel of corn requires about 1/3 of a gallon of oil to grow it, or around 50 gallons of oil/acre. Pollan then mockingly suggests that we just drink the oil and save ourselves the time…Oh, we do. In Iowa, they have something called “Blue Baby Alerts”. That’s right-some days there is so much run-off fertilizer in the water supply that giving infants water will inhibit oxygen from being carried through the body, causing the infant to suffocate, turn blue, and eventually die. Many folks in corn regions won’t even cook or bathe with the water-they have specialized filtration systems, which admittedly, doesn’t filter it all. Follow the run-off a little further down the Mississippi, and you’ll end up in the Gulf of Mexico, where a polluted spot as big as New Jersey is void of sea life. That’s right, everything except the algae is dead.
The corn crop isn’t the only food process using a large amount of petroleum and causing pollution from run-off. One calf, from birth to death, consumes nearly 35 gallons of oil (84). The cattle industry is a scary, scary place:
- In the 1920’s and 1930’s, cows were 4 or 5 years old when slaughtered. In the 1950’s, they were 2 or 3 years old at slaughter. Now? 14 months old.
- What gets a calf to go from 80lbs. to 1100lbs. in 14 months? Well, a tremendous amount of corn, protein, and fat supplements, and a ton of new drugs. Cows are fed cornflakes. Yep, cornflakes. And then…get this…OTHER COWS! This was the problem that led to Mad Cow disease in the late 1990’s. The FDA stepped in, but said it was still okay to give them cow blood products and fat. In fact, FDA rules allow cows to be fed non-cow animals including feather-meal, chicken litter (including bedding, feces, and discarded bits of feed (more corn!) from chicken pens), chicken, fish, and pig meal. Furthermore, the now banned cow meat is being fed to other animals. Follow me here…chickens are fed cow meat…but the those same chickens are fed to the cow…so the cows are still eating cow meat. Keep in mind…cows are herbivores! Cows are also fed molasses (more sugar) and a synthetic nitrogen that is very similar to fertilizer. Throw in some synthetic estrogen and antibiotics and you’ve got one yummy cow buffet. Literally…
- Cows are fed 32lbs. of corn/day. This leads to marbling of the flesh. This used to be a not-so-good thing. Consumers didn’t like their meat marbled. Then the USDA put out a “grading system” that gave high marks to marbled meat, and voila, consumers now think marbling is good.
- Eating this diet that they are not naturally supposed to be eating, causes all kinds of yucky problems for the cow. The corn causes gas to build up in the stomach, which must be belched or umm, belched the other way. BUT, the diet causes a layer of slimy stuff to line the stomach, which means the gas can’t escape. To remedy this, (if its noticed in time) a hose is shove down the cow’s throat into the esophagus. This also causes the stomach to become very acidic, when it is usually not. It eats holes in the cows stomach, allowing bacteria to leak in to the bloodstream…and the meat which is eaten by consumers. 15-30% of cows have this, and on some feedlots, it’s as high as 70%.
- Prior to 1980, a new strain of e-coli had never been seen. This new e-coli strain comes from the stomach of cows. Before, the cow’s stomach was neutrally balanced, which means if the bacteria did get into the human’s stomach, it would die because our stomach is acidic. But now that it’s starting off in such an acidic environment, if it gets into our acidic stomach, it continues to grow and thrive. As few as 10 microbes of e-coli in the human body can cause kidney failure and death in a matter of a few days. Sadly, I’ve recently read that this strain is starting to show up in other animals and grass fed cows, too, because they are drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated feed or encountering some of the run-off from feed lots.
- A really-smart-guy at Cornell found that switching the cows over to a grass and hay diet for just a few days before slaughtering would reduce the presence of e-coli by almost 80% in the cow, and in the pens (because they are shoved in there, eat there, sleep there, and poo there-so they’re standing literally knee-deep in e-coli filth-which is sprayed off during slaughtering, adding a nice flavor to the meat, don’t ya think?). What did the agricultural industry decide to do? Spray more chemicals to try to kill the bacteria on the cow and in pen, and give more anti-biotics to kill it within the cow.
To me, these were just some of the big ideas that every consumer in America should be aware of. The book presents an abundance more material worth looking into. No need to Paperbackswap this book, as there’s already a queue of people waiting to read it.
9.5/10 A definite read for anyone who eats…