As a young adult brought up in a Midwestern middle-class family, I have never given much thought to where (or what for that matter) my food originated. The Omnivore’s Dilemma written by Michael Pollan masterfully illustrates the trials and tribulations our “food” goes through to reach our digestive systems. His writing bombards you with facts that scare the modern day consumer into wanting to perpetually fast. However, Pollan also explains that food (primarily corn and soybeans) is unavoidable since it is interwoven into the fabric of American life.
Food is a subject with many levels; governmental, economical, cultural and personal. Although these things might not seem connected, they truly are. I am a person who enjoys food, but has never questioned what ramifications my choices might have. My senior year of high school I took Advanced Placement Environmental Science, which taught me that everything was connected. So, by eating a hamburger for dinner last night, I engaged in making a decision that affected me on a personal level, but also a decision that perpetuated a culture of unhealthy eating practices encouraged by governmental policies which are lobbied for by industries with strong economic self-interests.
What I have derived from reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma is that if it is not broken, do not fix it. However, America has not heeded its own advice. With the dawn of the industrial revolution came the demise of natural evolution. No longer are people living within their means by farming only what they need. Instead corn, comparable to a parasite, has infested the body and soul of America, as well as its brain trust. It has us as a nation hypnotized by its golden kernels, high yield potential and hundreds if not thousands of uses that are not as practical as they may seem. I believe this spell must be broken, that we must begin to take responsibility for and control over our food source for the overall health of society. Cracks are already beginning to form in the shiny exterior of corn’s reputation; an example of such a crack being this book.
Over the past few days I have been trying to discuss this book with my friends. My attempts have been futile, for they refuse to listen. When they do pay attention to what I am saying, they become disillusioned after I utter the words corn, beef, high fructose corn syrup or the phrase “Did you know…” These people can be included in the generalized public Pollan alludes to, “Eating industrial meat takes an almost heroic act of not knowing or, now, forgetting” (Pollan, 84). From reading these passages, I have gathered that most people do not know or do not want to know where their food comes from. It is simply too abhorrent and would make most people lose their appetite. What does this say about our culture? I guess ignorance really is bliss, and in some ways, not knowing is better than knowing, for it is a form of self-preservation. If people knew that food preservatives such as tertiary butylhydroquinone, a form of butane that in one gram can cause serious illness and in five grams can lead to death was being allowed by the FDA to be sprayed on our food according to a passage in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, they would stop eating altogether.
Since I have been enlightened to the realities of the food industry, I choose to know where my food comes from and exactly what it contains even though that poses an incredible challenge since big business is trying to keep us in the dark, for their benefit. Although one might develop a nihilistic view of food and our future, I still remain optimistic. I still believe that this is a problem that can be fixed, if we start small and work our way up. And since food is interconnected with almost every aspect of life on Earth, maybe changing this industry for the better will change Earth for the better.