Friday, 29 January 2016

Children of the Corn, Indeed

Pollan Michael. 2006. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meal. New York (NY): Penguin Books.

“It’s just chicken, Sam,” I reassured myself.

I stared at the plate of freshly cooked meat sitting in front of me and my stomach churned. My mother looked over at me with concern, no doubt my face was turning green as well. It was dinner time and I had just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

I’m not a vegetarian, but today, I could not even stomach the thought of eating any meat. Looking at that plate of chicken on the table made me nauseous. All I could think of was steer number 534.

“I’m not that hungry tonight,” I replied weakly, “could you pass the vegetables, please?”

My brother handed me a bowl of corn. My vision spun.

“Maybe just the potatoes, please…”

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, was this week’s reading and it was very informative. Michael Pollan followed the journey of corn from the fields it was grown in, the trains it traveled on, the factories it was processed in, to the hungry people it fed. Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma was like watching a train wreck. At first, everything seemed fine, it was a typical day on the tracks. Pollan’s introduction discussed the history of corn and how it became America’s number one crop, there was some humours and obligatory information on corn sex, and then everything got worse.

Like watching a train wreck, my eyes were glued with some sort of horrified fascination to the pages of this book. Pollan was not holding anything back when he recounted his journey following the grain. When I read about the plague of cheap corn I wanted to bash my head against something hard. “Instead of supporting farmers, the government was now subsidizing every bushel of corn a farmer could grow – and American farmers pushed to go flat out could grow a hell of a lot of corn.” (pg. 53)


Even a young child knows that when a bathtub is too full she has to turn off the tap. So why flood your markets with corn only to make the value of corn decrease and therefore you profit decrease as well? Where is the logic in that?! I am not even a business student and I know that that is bad! America (and I bet Canada isn’t guilt free either) does not know when to stop. America isn’t the land of the free, it’s the land of gimme more.

Needless to say, Pollan is an excellent writer to make me feel so strongly about a subject I am just becoming aware about. Despite how angry it made me feel at some points, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is written very well. Like The Botany of Desire, Pollan did not just slap down a tonne of facts onto the pages of his book, he crafted a lyrical story. Pollan brings other people’s voices, like George Naylor and Ricardo Salvador, into the story. By doing this, Pollan’s story make me feel emotionally invested in their lives.

I felt angry when I read about Naylor not being able to make enough money to feed his family, despite living in a literal cornucopia. I also felt embarrassed and ashamed when I read about the corn that was so carelessly scattered on the grounds beneath the grain elevator. “’In Mexico, even today you do not let corn lay on the ground; it is considered sacrilegious.’” (pg. 58) What has happened in America that people do not view such an important resource the same way?

Ultimately, I was expecting that I was going to enjoy reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, but I never thought how personally it would affect me. Michael Pollan has taken a single, insignificant grain and turned it into something larger and far more impacting then I ever thought it could be. Pollan made me realize how integrated corn is in our lives. The very foundations of our nations are build upon it. We are children and people of corn.

After reading this book, I walked around my house in a daze. I began to wonder about all the things that could be made of corn. Was the chicken that my family was eating for diner fed corn? How much corn was in that can of pop my brother was drinking? Was there corn in my toothpaste? I began to hate corn. I hated what it represented (a welfare crop for farmers trying to make enough money to feed their family). I hated that it was necessary (with our current population sizes, what else is there to sustain a nation on?) . The title of Pollan's book is incredibly accurate; I am an omnivore, and this is my dilemma.  


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  3. I really enjoy your blogs, I think it’s a great balance between personal perspective and literary analysis of each week’s readings. I especially enjoy the personal aspect that you bring to each blog, like this past week when you described how reading the Omnivores Dilemma altered your eating habits. Or in your blog post: More precious than Gold, how you described your love for strawberries in the summertime. I loved your personal examples that you used, like in this past week’s reading, you compared Pollan’s story to a train wreck. I never would have thought about it that way, so it gave me a different perspective on my opinions of the reading. I really enjoy your blog titles as they are intriguing enough to draw me in but still relevant to the subject matter. I think your blogs are very well done and I will enjoy reading them in weeks to come.