In the hunters and gatherers settings, men set out with shotgun and head to the forest to search for wild fruits and animals for food. Women, on the other hand, gather fruits and vegetables from nearby bushes in order to make food readily available. These tendencies coupled with relatively lower population and little competition for resource ensured harmonious living amongst human fraternity. Ripe potatoes, carrots, and green lettuce existed in large quantities in most backyards, especially in the summer. In the winter seasons, on the other hand, fruits and vegetables remained readily available. The green produce subsidized the already flourishing meat and protein sections from the wild game. All these ensured that the human fraternity enjoyed abundance in alternative nutrition, hence providing assurance of good health and longer lifespan.
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However, industrial revolution transformed the food production systems and greatly changed the eating habits. The revolution transformed both the physical and mental food production and consumption landscape. As Pollan explains, majority of the current population do not hunt.1 Gathering only exists in a few communities across the world as more people resort to modern modes of eating.
These coupled with the rapidly rising population against the rapidly reducing levels of the natural environment, pizza and other fast food products continue to gain ground in the current markets. Scarcity of land forces human settlements into areas that remain forested with vast natural and game products. Encroachment into the forestland for human settlement reduces the quantity of land available for backyard cultivation. All these translate to skewed eating habits evident in most populations across the globe.
The struggle for the limited resources amid growing population created a capitalistic system in the management of natural resources. Several authorities developed systems for management of the natural resources and control of the economy. Even though capitalism aimed at controlling resources and ensuring proper management for societal success, it fails to create proper measures for return to the liberal hunters and gatherers lifestyles that guaranteed healthy food in abundances. Similarly, skewed systems of resource mobilization and wealth control leads to the state of ‘man eat man society.’ Resources such as corn, which previously acted as basic carbohydrates to the human fraternity, get diversion towards fuel production to run machines. This coming in the wake of insufficient land for cultivation creates a system in which humans turn to omnivorous status and bio-fuels to run engines.
In the book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan draws vivid explanations through a series of four piece meals. In this setting, there exists a series of industrial foods originating from the fast manufacturers such as McDonald’s, and industrial organic foods comprising of meals prepared from stuffs bought from Whole Foods outlets. Pastoral components of these explanations come from sustainable farms as depicted in the Virginia farm while personal meals comprise of foods hunted and gathered. Even though the four items leave readers perplexed, the most outstanding derivation comes from the comparison that Pollan makes between industrial foods and farm foods. In the Virginia farm, there seems to be a relatively sustainable natural ecosystem from which Joel Salatin derived livelihood. The farm is devoid of synthetic fertilizers, wastage absence, and everything seems self-sustaining.2
In this ecosystem, the struggle for environmental sustainability remains evident, with issues of global warming and climate change taking center stage. The resources remain limited even as the human fraternity seeks to maximize outputs within the scarce land available.3 The resulting situation necessitates poor public health, abuse of natural resources, relatively lower than a human’s lifespan. It is in these systems of insufficiencies and several negative consequences that necessitate capitalist greed – often coupled with human arrogance, and complacency in policy implementation.
These skewed systems in the most population compel countries to encourage farmers to engage in the production of corn that directly generates benefits to several corporate bodies. In his argument, Pollan explains that the struggle for production of unlimited corn benefits the petrochemical companies, which manufactures fertilizers and pesticides for the crop’s farms, feedlot operators who use corn as animal feeds, industrial buyers of feedlot meat, as well as pharmaceutical companies that develop drugs necessary for development of grain tolerance in animals. Similarly, corn processors, especially ADM and Cargill, rely on corn as an input for the production of vitamins, nutritional supplements, and food preservatives. At the end of chain, there are the large industrial giants that use outputs from corn processors to develop soft drinks, frozen dinners, and snack foods.4
Discussion and Analysis of Issues
Corn and its effects
As discussed above, the entire human diet revolves around corn. If one takes the old age adage of “you are what you eat” into perspective, it is understood that the entire human life in the book remains corn. Even though this sounds awkward, numerous scientific researches show that carbon compounds take the largest share of human body mass. Several scientific studies show that there exists a cycle of carbon elements within the atmosphere often stored in human and plants. Even though the plants take it in the form of carbon dioxide gas that is necessary for photosynthesis, most human foods come from plants.5 Similarly, animal products that human beings feed on derive their basic foods from the plants. This cycle presents the human fraternity as the long-lasting stores of carbon.
Corn origin and conquest
Corn gained entry into the US during the Great Depression. Government policies developed during this time encouraged farmers to produce more food for the American population, as well rescue farmers from the dire consequences of excessive outputs during the depression. Similarly, excessive production of corn presented subsidies for foreign exchange. Amid these excessive productions, the United States’ Federal Government came in with policies that ensured that corn prices remained competitive in the global market. In this context, many farmers resorted to cultivation of corn due to the readily available government market.6
Staller goes further to explain that as the systems to keep high production at relatively lower prices gained ground, the quantity of corn rapidly became excess. Due to the excess production, demand for value addition of the “mountain of cheap corn” sets in; the desire to convert the cheap corn into high priced products gained ground in the economy.7 It was necessary to find people and animals to consume the increasing corn quantity, as well as develop other products that could reduce wastage of corn. It is for this reason that several ranches turned into in-feed programs for the farm animals to consume the relatively cheap corn. Further studies on the trends of such development showed that cows raised in free grazing lands took longer to reach slaughterhouse weight in comparison to those raised on richer diets. Such richer diets comprised large corn quantities, protein, fat supplements, and an array of new drugs to counteract any animal illness.
Importance of corn
In the works of National Corn Growers Association, there exist more than 4,200 uses of corn. This wide-range usage presents corn as a serious driver of the different tenets of the US economy. In 2013, out of the $53.6 billion agricultural export earnings, corn contributed $4.5 billion. This represented 47.7 million metric tons of export. Such a contribution to the US budget shows how important the corn industry remains to the Americans.
Each year, the US produces more than 50 billion pounds of non-biodegradable plastics. Petroleum products are the main sources of input used in the production of such plastic. Therefore, the production process leads to environmental degradation, climate change, and global warming. However, with development of plastics from corn, environmental protection increases. Corn plastics are biodegradable under controlled composites, and are helpful in the manufacture of organic manure. Cornstarch packing for peanuts is an example of biodegradable corn product. This product dissolves in water completely, thus making it an eco-friendly product. Similarly, the use of ethanol in place of gasoline results in the reduction of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. This reduction, estimated at 29 percent, represent withdrawal of 2.7 million gasoline cars in the consumption of 10.6 billion gallons of ethanol.8 Reducing carbon emissions translates to ozone layer protection, thus reducing global warming. The multiplier effect of these phenomena ensures environmental safety and sustainability.
Corn as Livestock Feed
In the US, corn acts as the most reliable animal feed. It is significant to note that the manufacturers of the animal feed offer the largest market base for the corn producers. Given that grazing lands continue to decrease at a tremendous rate, farmers maximize their animal produce using corn-related feeds. The rate of maturity of the corn-fed animal remains relatively higher than the rate of maturity of the freelance animals.9 The above factors shows how best corn and it products contributes to economic development of different nations. However, if the human intake of corn and its products go unchecked, several negative impacts arise.
Negative impacts of corn consumption
Even though many people enjoy corn-related meals, the health related risks that come with such consumptions are dangerous. Given that the corn-related health problems takes time to mature in human body, many people assume these defects even though they offer the underlying reason for major health defects in the current human population. Most human beings derive primary proteins from farm animals like cows, sheep, and goats. In the past, grass worked as the major source of food for these farm animals. However, with increasing population and scarcity of land for grazing due to the rising human settlement needs, the ability to keep such farm animals in a free grazing land setting remains in jeopardy.10
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Given the rising modern economic trends, most farmers raise cattle, goats, and sheep on corn due to inadequate grazing lands. Since the digestive systems of these animals cannot take up large quantities of corn, the strain in digestion weakens their systems due to the insufficient take up of typical meals. As more intake of corn takes place, strains of E. coli gains grounds in the digestive tracts of animals. This easily passes to humans who consume such animals. Insufficient digestion of corn within the animals’ digestive systems may lead to increased uptake of raw corn, especially in an animal diet made in a hurry.
Research shows that corn-fed meats have low nutrient levels in comparison to natural grass-fed meats. The omega-6 and omega-3 inflammatory fatty acids in corn are responsible for chronic inflammation disorders that often cause heart problems and degeneration of human health conditions. Corn cereals, corn chips, and corn syrups represent some of the most dangerous products of corn. Humans also take up much corn oil via several corn products. For example, corn syrup used as sweetener in soft drinks exposes humans to obesity than table sugar. High fructose corn syrup alters the blood sugar levels, thus causing kidney problems and high blood pressure.
Apart from obesity and blood sugar problems, research shows that corn syrup causes premature aging, heart problems, and oxidative damages that may cause cancer.11 Excessive consumption of corn products leads to excessive weight gain. In a study at the Princeton University, laboratory test showed that intake of high fructose corn syrup led to more weight addition in relation to the intake of table sugar. The research showed that people who were susceptible to excessive intake of corn product experienced significant increase in body fats deposits around their abdomens. Increase in weight and excessive fat deposits in the body form the best recipe for obesity, heart failures, high blood pressure, and other lifestyle diseases.
Similarly, excessive corn product intake causes amylophagia. This is a conditional disorder among pregnant women with excessive cornstarch consumption. In many cases, amylophagia results in premature deliveries, C-section deliveries, and high birth weight deliveries. In order to avoid these diseases, regulated intake of corn and corn products is necessary.
In the US, at least forty percent of the country’s corn acts as inputs in the production of bio-fuels. This represents one-sixth of the world’s corn supply. The resultant effects of such statistics show that cars continue to take up human food. With rising needs to ensure environmental sustainability, federal governments continue to provide subsidies to companies that use corn ethanol as their fuel. Despite the fact that it takes relatively less energy to produce corn fuel, this process amounts to cyclic destruction of food supplies often in place to regulate market prices. Such anomaly results in skewed market conditions in which farmers are unable to sell their produce at substantive profits. Capitalism in the corn sector slowly results into destruction of local agriculture. In as much as corn production in the US dominated the foreign market, the farmers have little influence on the prices. The surplus production export fails to earn any extra benefit for farmers.12
Conclusion and Recommendation
Market liberalization and capitalism offer the most viable systems for trade. In this system, the laws of demand and supply help to define market prices of goods and services. In the corn industry, however, market regulation through subsidies confined the ability of market to define prices. The government policies on the purchases of corn produced ensured that prices of corn remained relatively stable even in cases of surplus production. Similarly, in the capitalistic setting, the struggling to control resources for the rising population compromised the availability of grazing land for livestock. This scenario compelled farmers into feedlot agriculture in which farm animals depended on corn products for food.
Since the digestive systems of farm animals always fail to digest the corn product, health issue arise from the consumption of the corn-fed animals. Obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems, kidney failures, stroke, and other lifestyle diseases set in among the human consumers of corn-fed animals. This further implies that capitalism in corn production fails to save the human population from the problems of sustainability, but offers short-term solutions to foot scarcity while exposing individual consumers of corn to chronic health problems. To prevent the health problems, there ought to be strict guidelines to control overreliance on corn.
Chevat, Richie, and Michael Pollan. The omnivore’s dilemma: the secrets behind what you eat. New York: Dial Books Publishers, 2009. Web.
Fabiosa, Jacinto. Land allocation effects of the global ethanol surge: predictions from the international FAPRI model. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, 2009. Web.
Field, Barry. Natural resource economics: an introduction. 2nd ed. Boston, Mass.: Irwin/McGraw-Hill, 2001. Web.
Markowitz, Lisa Beth. U.S. food policy: anthropology and advocacy in the public interest. London: Routledge, 2012. Web.
Pollan, Michael. The omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. Web.
Preedy, Victor R.. Flour and breads and their fortification in health and disease prevention. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press, 2011. Web.
Smil, Vaclav, and Paul Nachman. Energy analysis and agriculture: an application to U.S. corn production. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1983. Web.
Staller, John, Robert Tykot, and Bruce Benz. Histories of maize: multidisciplinary approaches to the prehistory, linguistics, biogeography, domestication, and evolution of maize. Burlington, Mass.: Elsevier Academic Press, 2006. Web.
1 Michael Pollan. The omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. Web.
2 Ibid, 403
3 Vaclav Smil, and Paul Nachman. Energy analysis and agriculture: an application to U.S. corn production. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1983. Web.
4 Richie Chevat, and Michael Pollan. The omnivore’s dilemma: the secrets behind what you eat. Young readers ed. New York: Dial Books, 2009. Web.
5 Barry Field. Natural resource economics: an introduction. 2nd ed. Boston, Mass.: Irwin/McGraw-Hill, 2001. Web.
6 John Staller, Robert Tykot, and Bruce Benz. Histories of maize: multidisciplinary approaches to the prehistory, linguistics, biogeography, domestication, and evolution of maize. Burlington, Mass.: Elsevier Academic Press, 2006. Web.
7 Ibid, 279
8 Jacinto Fabiosa. Land allocation effects of the global ethanol surge: predictions from the international FAPRI model. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, 2009. Web.
9 Lisa Beth Markowitz. U.S. food policy: anthropology and advocacy in the public interest. London: Routledge, 2012. Web.
10 Victor Preedy. Flour and breads and their fortification in health and disease prevention. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press, 2011. Web.
11 Ibid, 259
12 Ibid, 385