Corn is in the coffee whitener and Cheez Whiz, the frozen yogurt and TV dinner, the canned fruit and ketchup and candies, the soups and snacks and cake mixes, the frosting and gravy and frozen waffles, the syrups and hot sauces, the mayonnaise and mustard, the hot dogs and the bologna, the margarine and shortening, the salad dressings and the relishes and even the vitamins. “Once the settlers had fully grasped the secrets and potential of corn, they no longer needed the Native Americans.” Squanto had handed the white man precisely the tool he needed to dispossess the Indian. Tall-grass prairie is what this land was until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the sod was first broken by the settler’s plow. Without the “fruitfulness” of Indian corn, the nineteenth-century English writer William Cobbett declared, the colonists would never have been able to build “a powerful nation.” Maize, he wrote, was “the greatest blessing God ever gave to man.”. Agriculture has done more to reshape the natural world than anything else we humans do, both its landscapes and the composition of its flora and fauna. Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Much less obviously, the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-, di-, and triglycerides, the attractive golden coloring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nugget “fresh” can all be derived from corn. Sometimes, as in the produce section, that chain is fairly short and easy to follow: As the netted bag says, this potato was grown in Idaho, that onion came from a farm in Texas. Cooking opened up whole new vistas of edibility by rendering various plants and animals more digestible, and overcoming many of the chemical defenses other species deploy against being eaten. A sobering, but still entertaining read. It has also given me hope that I will be able to see Joel Salatin's dream in my lifetime. Once you get into the processed foods you have to be a fairly determined ecological detective to follow the intricate and increasingly obscure lines of connection linking the Twinkie, or the nondairy creamer, to a plant growing in the earth someplace, but it can be done. H U M a N I M A L I A 1:1 Carrie Packwood Freeman A ppetizing Anthropocentrism Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan explores how modern-day humans answer the age-old question, “What should we eat,” by tracing four types of food chains (or food production systems), from a food’s origin to its final destination, the dinner table. Though we twenty-first-century eaters still eat a handful of hunted and gathered food (notably fish and wild mushrooms), my interest in this food chain was less practical than philosophical: I hoped to shed fresh light on the way we eat now by immersing myself in the way we ate then. Over there’s your eggplant, onion, potato, and leek; here your apple, banana, and orange. Though it might not always seem that way, even the deathless Twinkie is constructed out of…well, precisely what I don’t know offhand, but ultimately some sort of formerly living creature, i.e., a species. Eating puts us in touch with all that we share with the other animals, and all that sets us apart. Naturalists regard biodiversity as a measure of a landscape’s health, and the modern supermarket’s devotion to variety and choice would seem to reflect, perhaps even promote, precisely that sort of ecological vigor. So far, this reckless-seeming act of evolutionary faith in us has been richly rewarded. Yet because those seeds are now trapped in a tough husk, the plant has lost its ability to reproduce itself—hence the catastrophe in teosinte’s sex change. The C-4 trick helps explain the corn plant’s success in this competition: Few plants can manufacture quite as much organic matter (and calories) from the same quantities of sunlight and water and basic elements as corn. A longtime contributor to the New York Times Magazine,… More about Michael Pollan Ideally, you would open your mouth as seldom as possible, ingesting as much food as you could with every bite. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A... Please try again. It had to adapt itself not just to humans but to their machines, which it did by learning to grow as upright, stiff-stalked, and uniform as soldiers. Certainly it would never have happened in a culture in possession of deeply rooted traditions surrounding food and eating. Our bewilderment in the supermarket is no accident; the return of the omnivore’s dilemma has deep roots in the modern food industry, roots that, I found, reach all the way back to fields of corn growing in places like Iowa. Difficult, but not impossible. The koala’s culinary preferences are hardwired in its genes. Rather, it's more a tale of an individual journey towards a greater understanding of where our food comes from - which really resonates with me. But for omnivores like us (and the rat) a vast amount of brain space and time must be devoted to figuring out which of all the many potential dishes nature lays on are safe to eat. This proposition is susceptible to scientific proof: The same scientists who glean the composition of ancient diets from mummified human remains can do the same for you or me, using a snip of hair or fingernail. I’ve borrowed his phrase for the title of this book because the omnivore’s dilemma turns out to be a particularly sharp tool for understanding our present predicaments surrounding food.
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