this ain’t corny

Thursday, 18 May 2006

It's cliché to say you are what you eat. Journalist Michael Pollan examines the huge impacts of what we eat in his new book called The Omnivore's Dilemma. I haven't read the book yet, but I listened to two interviews with Pollan, introducing his exploration of the food cycle and its impact on public health, the environment, the economy, and the landscape. In particular, he focuses on corn, the premier agricultural product of America.

In the numbers

  • A farmer can sell a bushel of corn (equivalent to 56 lbs of food) for only $1.45 today.
  • At the supermarket, one dollar can buy 2,500 calories of processed foods (crackers, cookies, etc which are laced with corn products) or only 250 calories of carrots.
  • Over a few decades, we went from spending 18% of our national income on food to spending 9% now. During the same period, our spending on healthcare went from 5% to 16%.
  • Agricultural companies' investments in corn: they buy a raw ingredient at 4¢ and sell a value-added product at $1.00.
  • Production of each bushel of corn consumes 1/4 to 1/3 a gallon of gasoline.
  • A full one-fifth of our fossil fuel use goes towards our food!

Some tantalizing quotes from the interviews:

  • "Corn is the perfect industrial and capitalist plant."
  • "Corn is sipping fossil fuels."
  • "We prize cheapness in our food over quality, and we're paying the price. The irony is of course that a cheap food economy is incredibly expensive."
  • We are paying an "irresponsible price" for our food because its cheapness belies the huge costs in public health, environmental health, and your own health.

Take a listen to these fascinating interviews and check out the book too!

Michael Pollan on NPR's Fresh Air (as always, the wonderful Terry Gross really draws out her subjects and creates a riveting, flowing interview.)

Michael Pollan & others on Radio Open Source

The book The Omnivore's Dilemma at


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