Friday, March 21, 2008

Michael Pollan Omnivore's Dilemma

Our modern-day Upton Sinclair is a journalism professor named Michael Pollan whose book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, explored the American food manufacturing system. The book's most significant contribution was the assertion that a combination of political and biological factors had done almost indescribable damage to the overall health of Americans.

Specifically, he traced how a single political decision made in the 70's having to do with farm subsidies led to a single grain — corn — being mass grown without the limitations normally imposed by supply and demand.

Corn became so abundant and consequently so cheap that manufacturers began looking for novel ways to use it. This led to the inclusion of high-fructose corn syrup in hundreds of products and the invention of a dazzling array of corn-based cereals and snack foods.

With all those cheap, salted, and sugared calories to be had, Americans grew increasingly fat and increasingly diabetic. Perhaps worse, though, was the wide-spread use of corn as cattle feed.

Cattle don't do well on grains. It makes them sick and they then require antibiotics. Furthermore, it changed the fatty acid content of their meat. Whereas normally the grass-fed creatures had omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratios more consistent with wild game or wild salmon, the corn-feeding turned them into hoofed heart attacks in waiting, the ingestion of which slowly clogged the nation's arteries.

Despite the billion-lumen light Pollan shined on the food industry, he didn't really pontificate too much on what humans should eat. He attempts to rectify that with his latest book, In Defense of Food.

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