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Ch. 1 - The plant: corn's conquest 
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Post Ch. 1 - The plant: corn's conquest
Please use this thread to discuss Chapter 1, The plant: corn's conquest.
:corn :corn :corn :corn :corn :corn :corn :corn :corn :corn

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/2/06 12:04 am



Sun Oct 01, 2006 11:04 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The plant: corn's conquest
I approach this book from a rather interesting position in that I am allergic to corn, as well as other major players in the North American diet such as wheat and milk products. In order to feel healthy, I have had to become a consumer of "whole foods," meals that consist of meat, vegetables, and rice. That's it. No "industrial foods." (Or so I thought. More on beef when we get to Chapter 4!) On the one hand, I would kill for a Twinkie and often feel sorry for myself that I have to live on such a restricted diet. On the other hand, I feel glad that I know I'm not likely heading for type 2 diabetes, stroke, or heart attack, because carrots don't tend to clog up your arteries like a Twinkie will.

However, when I sat and thought about this first chapter, what came bubbling to the surface was, "What are we doing to ourselves? Doesn't anyone else care that we are killing ourselves with this junk that we call food?." What is the difference between a Twinkie and cigarette. Shouldn't we be as angry at the "industrial food" producers as we are at big tobacco. I think people are as addicted to "industrial food" as they ever were to cigarettes. Where's the outrage?

It is bad enough that we feed ourselves this stuff, but how can so many people feed it to their children. I was raised on meals that consisted of meat, potatoes, and vegetables. We always had dessert but at least we had "whole foods" first. I've had to feel pretty bad physically to be able to give up processed foods, and it took me years to wean myself off it, so I'm not suggesting everyone just up and quit, and start eating carrots. But, I don't think a person would stand a chance of changing if they were started off on "industrial food." Having developed a taste for it, and being bombarded with the endless advertising, it would be quite a feat to change. So people who feed this stuff to their children are condemning them to a lifetime of it, I think.

We've started putting warnings on cigarette packs, public education about the evils of tobacco, limiting the age of those who can buy them, why are we so blind to the dangers of empty calorie food. When I go past my local convenience store at noon time, the public school kids standing around with the giant Slurpees and potato chips make me want to cry. Does anyone else feel outrage? Does anyone else eat "industrial food" and feel healthy? If so, are you over the age of 16?




Fri Oct 06, 2006 6:46 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The plant: corn's conquest
First, my initial responses, then some replies to Solina.

I wanted to make a note of the definition Pollan provides for industrial food: "Any food whose provenance is so complex or obscure that it requires expert help to ascertain." That's a pretty interesting little functional perspective, and it put me in mind of a few questions.

1. What benefit is accrued by the development of industrial food? -- The answer that seemed most obvious to me was that it can be cheaper than traditional forms of food. As it turns out, Pollan provides at least one other interesting answer in the next chapter...

2. Who benefits most from industrial food? -- That's a complex one, I'd say. On the one hand, the industries are obviously profitting on the long chain from field to market. But as Pollan points out, the options available to the consumer are likely as broad as they've ever been, even if what we're buying is ultimately linked to the monoculture of corn.

3. If the benefit is measured mostly in the amount of time/money/labor saved, does that benefit balance out once you figure in the cost of tracing and assessing the provenance of a food item, ie. the cost of the expert help in Pollan's definition? -- Presumably, that's one of the questions the book will help us answer.

Towards the end of the chapter, Pollan discusses the way in which the biology of corn reproduction made it possible for agricultural industries to convert it into an intellectual property. Essentially, they sold seed that had been bred in such a way that it yielded successively fewer crops each year. Farmer's can't count of the seeds their plants produced to keep their crops producing the same yield, so they have to buy more seed each year. I think this brings us to the issue of whether or not it's ethical to virtually patent a plant. Is it okay to make an intellectual property out of anything?

SolinaJoki: I approach this book from a rather interesting position in that I am allergic to corn, as well as other major players in the North American diet such as wheat and milk products.

Interesting. Are your allergies all related somehow, do you know? Or is it a combination of independent allergies? Honestly, I don't know that much about how allergies develop or work, so I'd appreciate any info you could give.

In order to feel healthy, I have had to become a consumer of "whole foods," meals that consist of meat, vegetables, and rice.

On a consumer level, that sucks -- the variety available to you is limited in ways most people couldn't imagine. But on the flip side, there's a good chance that you're healthier than most people, even apart from the fact that you don't eat Twinkies. Someone happened to notice me reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" the other day, and our conversation went down this very same path. Among other things, we talked about the seeming paradox of cultures that have comparatively simply diets of things we've been taught are bad when consumed to that degree -- and those cultures are often more physically healthy than we are. Not that it would take much to be more physically healthy than your average American.

We always had dessert but at least we had "whole foods" first.

I don't see anything necessarily wrong with dessert. I think it can be pretty important component of a really top-notch meal, and it need not be a serious detriment to our health. In fact, a well made dessert can promote good health. Most of our desserts are simply too lurid to be considered well-made.

Does anyone else eat "industrial food" and feel healthy? If so, are you over the age of 16?

I'm not terribly stringent with my diet, but around the time I turned twenty, I did start reconsidering my eating habits and making deliberate changes to the way I thought about food.

The thing is, I don't think Pollan limits the category of "industrial food" to that of junk food and heavily processed foods. The meat you eat might also qualify -- most meat in the first world, if Pollan is to be believed, is modified to subsist on corn, and that means a few extra kinks in its provenance. It's difficult to say that the consequences of those kinks will ultimately prove to be.

Just a thought -- for more than a decade now people have been citing some statistic about the amount of damage done to the ozone layer by cow flatulence. I always figured the point was that we had too many cows as a result of our perverse supply and demand. Now I'm starting to wonder if all those cows would be so gassy if we hadn't made corn a major part of their diet.




Thu Oct 12, 2006 11:47 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The plant: corn's conquest
Just a thought on allergies to corn...whenever someone comments about how people have more allergies these days, more asthma, more intolerances -- I always think of the song Industrial Disease by Dire Straits. Up until now, I've thought it was 'just' the quality of the air, the living under power lines, the cell phones constantly to our ears. Ha. Silly me.

Interesting how in recent years, the whole GMO discussion/debate has become so prevalent -- but no mention made of corn. You hear about wheat, other foods -- but I'd never added corn to the list. "Farmers will have to buy their wheat seed every year from Monsanto" -- but they already have to buy their hybrid corn seed every year, and have had to for decades.

Funny that, how that isn't mentioned.

"All beings are the owners of their deeds, the heirs to their deeds."

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Sun Oct 22, 2006 10:27 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The plant: corn's conquest
From Mad: "Are your allergies all related somehow, do you know? Or is it a combination of independent allergies? Honestly, I don't know that much about how allergies develop or work, so I'd appreciate any info you could give."

A simple description of the allergy process: We have a type of white blood cell that is programmed to recognize the proteins on the outside of cells that constitute "self." If a cell with a foreign protein on its outer membrane invades (bacteria, virus, etc.), those white blood cells recognize "not self" and attack and destroy that cell. There are also specialized white blood cells that remember the protein of that invader, which is what gives us acquired immunity to such things as chicken pox, measles, etc. When it next encounters that protein on an invader, it can attack immediately without have to do any analysis. What happens with an allergy is that those cells recognize something not harmful as an invader and mount an offensive. And having a memory for that "invader" it will continue to happen ad infinitum.

In the case of food allergies, it usually starts with what is called a "leaky gut." Your intestinal linings are made such that protein has to be broken down into smaller molecules before being absorbed through the lining into the blood stream. If you, for a variety of reasons, have a defective lining that will allow whole protein molecules through into the blood stream, then they will be recognized as invaders and allergies result as described above. This description is of a typical "IgE" allergy, IgE being immunoglobulin E, a component of the body's reaction to invader.

Then there are the whole constellation of food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance (intestinal lining does not produce the enzyme to break down the milk sugars), celiac disease (intestinal lining is damaged by the gluten in grains), etc.

Personally, I was born lactose intolerant. Since it was the 1950s, there were not many alternatives for feeding a baby. Today, we have formulas that contain the individual amino acids and broken down sugars for such problems. I was tried on all alternatives to cows milk, and finally my mother gave up and started feeding me solid foods. A baby's intestine is not ready to prevent the absorption of whole protein molecules until a certain age, which is why we don't feed infants solid foods. I imagine that the whole proteins were just flooding into my blood stream, setting up allergies that would bloom over the years. I find it very interesting that I can only tolerate foods that one would initially feed a baby: carrots, squash, rice, beef. Those are all first foods for a baby. Maybe the intestines don't have trouble keeping those proteins out. Who knows.

Interestingly, my sister, who had none of the infant feeding problems that I did, is also very allergic/intolerant to a lot of foods. There is obviously something familial/genetic going on here. The process of natural selection would have knocked us off long ago if not for industrial agriculture :)

She and I also have developed what one might call "environmental" allergies over the years. Probably because our systems are so besieged by trying to fight off all of the allergens, they have exhausted their ability to deal with fragrances, dyes, artifical colouring, etc. I live a health-food-store life :) Natural everything for me, right down to wearing just cotton (not that there is anything natural about the way we grow cotton, but at least it is not directly made from petroleum, just fertilized and pesticided with it!) I have found that formaldehyde plays much the same ubiquitous role in the manufacturing industy that corn does in our food industry. Everything contains formaldehyde, which is my prime environmental allergy: books, makeup, fabric dyes and finishes, building materials, etc. Toxic chemical, many applications, cheap, what could be better for industry and worse for humans, but hey most people will be able to tolerate it without noticing what damage it is doing to them. Sorry about the rant, but I'm as shocked about what I know of formaldehyde as I am about feedlots. Not only that, but "modern medicine" knows nothing of it. I had to put it all together for myself. Helps that I'm an engineer and my sister is a biochemist :)

So in answer to your question Mad, I am sure that all of my allergies/intolerances are related. There is clearly a genetic component (primary lactose intolerance), a familial component (shared with my sister), and a environmental component (living in a world of products manufactured with toxic chemicals). The interesting thing about all this allergy stuff is that I'm incredibly healthy. I eat an incredibly healthy, nontoxic diet, cannot tolerate caffeine, alcohol, etc., have tons of energy, get lots of exercise. I'll probably live to be 100 like my grandmother! Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here. Maybe my body is forcing me to live like we were meant to, without the petroleum products, manufactured nutrient-free foods, etc. Something to think about.

One more thing. I cannot tolerate the fragrance in most soaps and detergents. They are mostly manufactured from petroleum products. Know what the soap products I use are made from? Yep! - Corn :)




Tue Oct 24, 2006 7:21 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The plant: corn's conquest
Interesting stuff, Solina. I'll try to absorb some of that and see if I have any other comments or questions. I'm gald you're a part of this discussion. Good timing, I guess.




Thu Oct 26, 2006 6:40 pm
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