Monday, June 15, 2009

The Omnivore's Dilemma

My present reading is Vincent O’Sullivan’s latest poetry collection Further Convictions Pending and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan compares a koala which has no option as to its food – gum leaves - with humans who have both the luxury and dilemma of choice. His first section explores the production of corn, now all pervasive in the American food scene. He describes it as industrialised food. He says North Americans are now processed corn walking, claiming they had traded in a wide variety of diet for the appearance of variety.

He outlines how corn growing has replaced the old diversified family farm. The place where most kernels end up is on the American factory farm, places that could not exist without them. Further, hybrid corn is the greediest of plants, consuming more fertiliser than other crops. After the war the government had large stockpiles of ammonium nitrate used in munitions. It also can be used as fertiliser. But the processing uses oil.

Nixon’s Government removed the safeguards set in place during the New Deal. They replaced loans which enabled storage with outright purchase. With guaranteed sales the result was a mountain of cheap corn. So a system of specialisation and debt developed which saw the farmer chasing his own tail. It’s a sobering and thought-provoking read.

No comments:

Post a Comment