Tag Archives: CAFO

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is the classic modern food and farming book, so I felt obligated to read it and I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I just finished it. In this book, Michael Pollan attempts to answer the question that we face as we are presented with more and more options at the grocery store: what should we eat? Meat or plants? Conventionally grown foods or local-organic ones? He investigates and travels to find the answers to these and many other questions.

Here is a video I would recommend that introduces the organization and ideas of the book. At the beginning of the book, Pollan hit me with so much information that I remember thinking, “Each one of these paragraphs could almost be expanded into a book of its own.” Pollan’s book and especially its first section will definitely show you and tell you things that you didn’t know were true. As the book progresses, it moves further from conventional industrial agriculture towards alternative ways of growing food and finally towards finding your own food. The book becomes more cultural and spiritual and less factual, which is a really interesting journey I think. Pollan becomes more and more connected to his diet as he starts to take initiative and learn more about his food. The book contains valuable wisdom and insights into food and our food system. Pollan cites many authorities that range from J.I. Rodale who coined the term “organic” to modern ethicist Peter Singer. It is clear that Pollan has done some reading and research.

Though Pollan never does give a simple answer to “What should we eat?,” his opinions become pretty clear. While I do highly recommend the book for its evaluation, analysis, and comparison of different food-production models, I warn the reader to be aware of Pollan’s bias. It took me a while to see, but I understood it more after reading some reviews of the book. At times Pollan’s opinions bring him to present ideas and information in a misleading or one-sided way.

For example, at the beginning of the book, as Pollan tries to follow a steer on its journey birth to slaughter to burger, he discusses the corn and grain based diet of beef cows towards the end of their lives. Pollan says that this diet “rarely lasts more than 150 days,” after mentioning earlier that the calf spent its first six months of life on pasture. You wouldn’t know it from what Pollan says, but 30-40% of American beef is 100% grass-fed during the cows’ entire lives. And in all actuality, there are many ranchers who feed their cattle on pasture for much longer than 6 months, often 18 months or more, before sending them off to the feedlot. And depending on who you ask or what feed lot you are at, the number of days a beef steer spends on a feedlot is usually closer to 100 days.

I am not saying that I agree with all the practices of conventional beef production, I am just defending the facts. Pollan never lies, but he does leave some things out or chooses to focus on the worst of the industry. Though Pollan has many great and insightful things to say, my one problem is that at times he presents the issues in a way that seems kind of black and white, when things are in fact much more gray. At times he seems to blow things out of proportion, state his opinions like they are facts, or just go for shock value. I suppose that it is hard to avoid some degree of black-and-whiteness when writing from a very opinionated point of view, but it is nice to be aware of the point of view when reading the book. Now that I’ve said all of this, go out, buy the book, learn something new about our food system, and form your own opinion on it! And then read some other books on the food industry and compare their ideas to Pollan’s because The Omnivore’s Dilemma isn’t the only one out their.


King Corn

I heard about this documentary a while ago and just got around to watching it. (You can watch it on Hulu.) It follows two friends’ search to figure out why and how corn become such a giant part of our food system, such a common ingredient in foods at grocery stores. It’s hard to believe how ubiquitous corn is. In this movie, Michael Pollan tells us to consider a McDonald’s happy meal. What corn could there be in a burger, soda and fries? Surprisingly, there is almost a 100% chance that the beef was fed on a diet that consisted mainly of corn. The soda’s main ingredient and source of sweetness is high fructose corn syrup. The fries have probably been deep fried in corn oil. This is all the product of a massive increase in corn production over the last 30 years, after the government started promoting a “get big or get out” philosophy with commodity crops like corn. Across the country, people are planting more acres of corn, and producing more corn per acre. This corn isn’t even edible to humans before it’s processed into corn oil or high fructose corn syrup. We’re producing more corn than we know what to do with, so it ends up in giant granaries, its supply disproportional to demand. The government has to buy the corn from farmers and subsidize it to keep them in business. Farmers are motivated to increase their yield per acre, increasing supply and feeding this wasteful, costly cycle.

To investigate this phenomenon, friends Ian and Curtis buy an acre of farmland in Greene, Iowa. They grow their own corn crop, taking part in the process from planting to harvesting. On top of learning firsthand through farming, they talk to scientists, politicians, and local farmers. They try to trace their corn’s path to the supermarket. It proves impossible because they lose track of their individual harvest as soon as it is poured into the grain elevator, lost in a sea of Greene corn. In the end though, they learn about the system so that it becomes easy to predict the corn’s journey. It will go from farm to grain elevator through processors to become animal feed or high fructose corn syrup or corn oil. Ian and Curtis learn just how ridiculous this journey is.  The system sacrifices the health of American citizens, cattle, and the environment in its pursuit of economic stability. It’s not cheap in environmental costs nor is it sustainable. It’s hard to imagine how we could change a system with so much momentum and so many people behind it.

We want to counter this “get big or get out” philosophy. We need to give our support to farms that are built on sustainability, part of a more balanced system. Knowing that corn is in so many processed foods makes me want to eat fresh, whole foods even more. And as important as personal choice is, I think that this issue ultimately requires change within the government to be solved. The government is the force perpetuating the system, so the government must be the force to stop it. The more people that know about the issue, the more who will want to fight it and get things done. Our job is just to support what we think is right and spread the word until the controversy becomes so big that the government can’t ignore it.


45 Days: The Life and Death of a Broiler Chicken

This is a very great video to start thinking about what your food goes through before it gets to you. It’s also a reminder that your food was once living and can feel pain just like you. To begin with, its a shock for many people to figure out that a broiler chicken (one farmed for meat) only lives for about a month and a half, and often, even less. The farms are only out to make money, and the less time and less effort needed, the better. Many of the things the chickens are put through would be illegal if done to humans and at times,  the footage is a little disturbing. However, we can’t just ignore the truth because its scary or ugly.

part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGy9oTfH27s

part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lhoF0T9Ay8&