Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Corn: It's for breakfast, lunch & dinner

It hit me this morning when I opened up a box of Cheerios and read the label. The label listed all the ingredients from maiz integral (corn) through arroz (rice) to salvado de maiz (corn bran), and aciete de arroz (corn oil). Ok, there are twenty other ingredients but I selected those that popped out at me, considering that I’m reading (actually listening to) an The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of 4 Meals by Michael Pollan. Krista borrowed the “Book on CDs” from the Denver library and we downloaded the entire book to my ipod. It has been an interesting book, one you really should read if you want to know why you’re eating corn at every meal.

The best way to summarize the book is through this box of cereal. The cereal was distributed by Nestle Foods, a partner with General Mills in Mexico, with offices in Mexico City. With both as major US companies, I’m sure that the major ingredients for this, that being corn, came from a farm in the mid-west. Mike Pollan visits the farm of George Nalin in his book, where we learn that corn as a commodity is heavily subsidized by the US Government. I knew of this, but not the degree that it affects the industrial food system. So the corn grown in the Midwest, subsidized by my tax dollars, was processed by General Mills to extract the ingredients that were shipped to Mexico to make the cereal that I bought in a 375 gram box for 36 pesos ($2.57). What happens along this food chain, so to speak, is a tremendous amount of cheap oil and water. And profits for General Mills and Nestle - farmers sell corn for less than it costs them to grow it, all thanks to the Nixon administration’s reversal of a FDR policy as part of the new deal. What this policy has done is caused farmers to grow more corn – it’s the only way to make money, by lowering the cost to grow corn. This has created such a surplus of corn that we process to replace sugar (as high fructose corn syrup), use it in our gas tanks (as ethanol), feed it to cattle to fatten them (with assistance from antibiotics), and export it to Mexico as part of NAFTA. What the price I paid for the box of cereal doesn’t include is the environmental cost (for petroleum from the Middle East, water from the Ogalla aquifer, air pollution from harvesting, processing, and transport), nor does it include the social cost for the displaced corn farmer here in Mexico. For more information on that, read the blog of two guys cycling through Mexico to Paraguay.

If you want to learn more, pick up a copy of the The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of 4 Meals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another great book that addresses the energy and processing that goes into the food we get at the grocery store and the general demise over the years of the quality of grown and processed foods is called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It's definitely an eye-opener and motivator to shop and eat more wisely!