Enlightened moments reading Omnivore's Dilemna while flying over Iowa
How buying local, and from organic farms, will help wean us off of our dependence on petroleum.
On my flight back from Illinois, I began reading Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemna, something everyone needs to get their hands on and READ with the same zeal a famished person would seize upon a juicy lamb shank-- that was a corny metaphorm but while we're on the subject of CORN: the book was more meaningful to me in light of my week surrounded by corn fields.
If you look close you can see a patchwork quilt landscape of farms:
As I drove to the airport over the hilly roads of central Illinois, our car got stuck behind a slow-moving rig carrying a trailer that held white containers of nitrate fertilizer. Of course I knew that farmers used chemical fertilizers, but I didn't realize how tied to them farming has become. Seeing the containers of nitrate bobbing behind that truck, being transported to the cornfields alongside the highway gave me a better jumping off place as I sat on the plane and read The Omnivore's Dilemna, and specifically, the chapter that talked about how farming, which once ran on principals of ecology, now runs more on industrial expediencies.
The chapter I read talked about how ammonium nitrate that fertilizes those corn fields actually came from a surplus the government had of the stuff after World War II, (it is a main ingredient in making explosives.) Basically they discovered that since it's a great source of nitrogen for plants, they would use it to fertilize farmland. Obviously it was a was a boon for farming and allowed food to be produced much easier. Pollan talks about how it changed the basis of farming and it at this point, we've become dependent on it rather than solar energy.
Pollan writes: "The chemical fertilizer industry (along with that of pesticides which are based on poison gases developed from the war) is the product of the government's effort to convert its war machine to peacetime purposes."(Page 41, Pollan.)
"When human's acquired the power to fix nitrogen, the basis of soil fertility shifted from a total reliance on the energy of the sun to now reliance on fossil fuel." (Page 44)
"The ecology of the farm underwent a quiet revolution. What had once been a local, sun-driven cycle of fertility.... was now broken."
Pollan then begins to talk about how farms began to be operated on industrial concepts rather than having to follow biological constraints. "Fixing nitrogen allowed the food chain to turn from the logic of biology and embrace the logic of industry. Instead of eating exclusively from the sun, humanity now began to sip petroleum."(Pg 45.)
Including the natural gas required to run a farm now (in the fertilizer and with the gas it takes to run the machinery...) Polland estimates.. that every bushel of industrial corn requires between a quarter and a third of a gallon of oil to grow it, around 50 gallons of oil per acre of corn.
He points out the dangers of our dependence on fossil fuels required by our industrial corn farms, as well as other costs such as pollution from fertilizers that run off into ditches (in the Spring in Des Moines, when the run-off is the greatest, the community warns kids not to drink the water from the tap) And the costs of pollution washed down the Mississippi river into the Gulf of Mexico where it poisons the marine life... "the nitrate tide stimilates the wild growth of algae, and the algae smother the fish, creating a hypoxic: or dead zone as big as the state of New Jersey-- and still growing. By fertilizing the world, we alter the planet's composition of species and shrink its biodiversity."(Pg 47)
Image found: http://www.hessdesignworks.com/Corn.html
Is it possible that as a society, we need to return to traditional, organic farming to help solve our dependence on petroleum, not to mention the health crisis that as Americans we find ourselves in? Obesity being one, but also the litany of health problems and diseases that stem from being undernourished by "real" food (fresh fruits and veges that are allowed to ripen, that are clean and free of chemicals and other food sources grown and processed to retain optimum nutrients.) Not to mention food that still has a soul... was raised by a farmer or created by an artisan who cares as much about quality as she does about profit. We can't keep eating excessively from boxes, cans and relying on fast-food fixes to nourish us. Who wants to put their future health in the hands of the McDonald's food pyramid or mass-market farms that run on the industrial mantra of "faster, cheaper," rather than care about the health of its consumers. I don't blaim the farmers by any means. IN fact, if any of you are farmers.. I'd love to hear your perspective. I may be in left field here.
Polland writes about how corn subsidies created by the government to benefit the farmer, now keep corporations like Cargill and ADM rolling in the dough. These two corporations buy probably "near a third of the all the corn grown in America."
"These two companies now guide corn's path at every step of the way: they provide the pesticide and fertilizer to the farmers, operate most of America's grain elevators....broker and ship most of the exports, perform the wet and dry milling; feed the livestock and then slaughter the corn-fattened animals; distill the ethanol; and manufacture the high-fructose corn syrup and numberless other fractions derived from number 2 field corn. Oh, yes-- and help write many of the rules that govern this whle fame, for Cargill and ADM exert considerable influence over US agricultural policies. More even than the farmers who recieve the checks.... these companies are the true beneficiaries of the "farm" subsidies that keep the river of cheap corn flowing. Cargill is the biggest privately held corporation in the world." (Pg 63)
I did a little experiment on the "snack box" to see which contents contained CORN products. The box is the size and heft of a box of envelopes and is meant to feed me while in flight
I came up with three products containing CORN:
A bag of cookies and crackers both containing corn starch and my chicken salad in easy-open can contained high fructose corn syrup.