Thursday, April 15, 2010

Omnivore's Dilemma Ch. 3

Explain the differences between corn as food and corn as a commodity.  Who had driven this 
shift to commodity and how? What effects might this commodification of corn have on our health? 


  1. Corn as a commodity is treated as such. It is treated as an object, as something that will gain profit for whomever is involved. It is left to lay in the dirt, it is compiled into large "rivers"; the idea of a kernel of corn is forgotten. Corn as a food has long been held sacred by many societies, including the societies of our ancestors. Corn was held as a precious food source, something that held nourishment and energy. The heritage and the sacredness of corn have been betrayed by corn's ability to be used for so many things. Corn the commodity was invented, is a product of government policy, technology and the power of corporate lobbying power. With the invention of railroads and the grain elevator, came the rivers of corn. The farmer became an abstract part in the production of corn. Farmers began to handle corn less and less. As this happened, corn became less of a food and more and a commodity. Government policy only further reinforced the idea of corn as a commodity, making sure that production is high and prices are kept low. With the commodification of corn comes the processing. The further detached corn is from the farmer, the more it has been handled and the less fresh it is (if it is even in its original form). Health-wise, this is horrible for us. Our bodies are not designed to have corn be present in many things that we eat, or for us to not eat fresh foods. Part of the problem in our food system is the detachment of agriculture from the farmer. Agriculture in and of itself is a commodity, it is no longer about the food or at least the sacredness of food. Corn and soybeans are the most prominent and also saddest examples that we can see. In corn especially we see how insidious the input of corporations and government have been.

  2. As Altaire put it, corn has transformed from a well appreciated and oftentimes holy source of nutrition to a catalyst for financial success. In many parts of the world corn is still treated as a precious food (most notably in many Latin American countries, where corn is used for survival and our absurd treatment of the plant is scorned).

    This treatment of corn as a commodity has been domestically encouraged by none other than our own government - by encouraging overproduction at a low price, the government has pushed corn to lose all meaning other than commercial success and domination of the food industry. We cannot avoid corn, and I think that eventually that will come back to haunt us. As we grow more and more dependent on corn as a portion of all that we consume, we are basically training our bodies to learn to survive on one plant alone; that can never be good, even if corn outlives the human population (not that that really seems plausible).

  3. As corn becomes a commodity, the farming process is no longer about raising the best crops possible, but now the most crop possible. And we have our government to thank for this. Corn subsides are encouraging farmers to grow cheap and non-optimal corn as fast and as plentifully as they can so that we can put it into everything we eat. Now corn has left the dinner table and become a commodity necessary to everything that is now part of American life.

    What is more, this push toward including corn in everything is causing health problems as well. Not only has corn completely dominated our food industry, but also it now is a factor in our very health. The abundance of corn that is now in our diets is part of the reason that obesity levels are so high. So overall the shift to using corn as a commodity instead of a food has had serious effects
    on both our dependency on the crop as well as our health.

  4. Corn was a stable food for the peoples of North America for centuries. It has now become a symbol of the new world after the arrival of the Europeans, and now America has adopted it as one of its national symbols. The government of the United States has been trying to enforce this, but made it more than just a symbol by having it ubiquitously and way over-abundantly grown through subsidies. We have become dependent on corn for own livelihoods, being in almost everything we eat, using it to everything we are going to eat, providing Americans with jobs, and etc. Now that we are basically attached to corn, what does it mean to our health? Everyone knows that too much of anything is always not good for the body. Since, we do not diversify what we eat, we do not receive the benefits of having a wholesome, more nutritious diet. While the most obvious effect of this is obesity, we, compared to Europeans, who diversify their diets more can be much taller than us nowadays. The Netherlands is reported to have the tallest people in the world with men averaging 6'1" when they used to be shorter than the Americans, who were one of the tallest people in the world a few generations ago. If we better treat our bodies and eat more than just corn, perhaps our bodies will be in better physical condition.

  5. Corn as food is corn that is grown for purposes of more direct human consumption. In the early 1800's, this type of corn was more common, and more importantly, the product could usually be traced to its direct source. However, as the corn industry began to grow there were blanket standards placed on the quality of corn, and people began to care less about where the corn came from as long as they were comfortable with the standards it met. For me, Pollan describes commodity corn as "as much an economic abstraction as it is a biological fact." I agree with most people in that we should strive to diversify our diet before our dependency on monocultured corn as a commodity becomes any stronger

  6. For a long time corn has existed as a food. Corn was grown on small farms or sold to nearby neighbors. Slowly the quantity of corn grown by a single farmer and the distance traveled by a single kernel of corn before was consumed increased. As this happened farmers lost a connection with their corn. However, the final straw in the commoditization of corn was in 1856 when the Chicago board of trade established number 2 corn. From this point forward corn was no longer traded between individual growers and purchasers. It was a commodity. The Chicago board of trade specified certain provisions for number 2 corn, and any corn meeting those conditions was as good as any other number 2 corn. With this change quality of corn became negligible, as long as the corn met the basic standards it was good enough. There was no profit incentive to grow healthier, nicer corn. With the shift of focus away from quality came a complete obsession with quantity. Corn became a generic currency, all completely identical. This commodifcation is not only bad for the farmers. It is also bad for us, the consumers, with all corn lumped in one massive category there is no incentive to make safer corn, or to use less pesticides, all of the consumer comforts are sacrificed in the name of quantity.