DiffDifferent Ways of Looking at Food
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, attempts to figure out how such a simple question as, “What should we have for dinner?” (Pollan 1), turned out to be so complicated such that we need investigative journalists to tell us what is in our food. To do so, he went on a journey to follow all three food chains that sustain us today: the industrial, the organic, and the hunter-gatherer back to their origins. Although these journeys may have led to very different paths, there was one underlying theme that linked them all: the tension between logic of nature and industry. For every step industrialization takes, natural forces push it back to balance it out. Even so, industrialization has found a way to keep up with nature’s work by breaking through its cycle in order to thrive and profit. The work of industry is undeniably compelling. The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) alone has made meat so cheap and abundant that most American families can afford to eat it every meal. Industry makes this happen by feeding cows and steers large amounts of cheap federally subsidized corn, which the cows never evolved to eat. The result of this poor diet is simply a hoard of sick cows due to the acidity the corn produces in their stomachs. To counteract this problem, industries turned to antibiotics. Medicines that were created to treat diseases are now a staple ingredient in a cows’ fodder, as an attempt to treat this acidic imbalance. Pollan explained the irony in this situation: “Here the drugs are plainly being used to treat sick animals, yet the animals probably wouldn’t be sick if not for the diet of grain we feed them.” (“The Feedlot: Making Meat” pg. 79) The power of industry lies in its ability to manipulate and twist the work of nature and to break closed cycles within nature. It has stripped the evolution of the rumen and its relationship with grass and has transformed cows into corn-fed machines. However, it doesn’t stop there. Pollan thought there was a simple alternative to this industrial disaster, but it turned out that it wasn’t as black and white as he once thought it was. When people think of organic agriculture, they picture happy cows on a grassy green farm. However, the truth behind organic agriculture is similar to conventional agriculture. Even within organic agriculture, industries find their way to implement their system to work against nature. Pollan states, “When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one’s ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine. Once that leap has been made, one input follows another, so that when the synthetic nitrogen fed to plants makes them more attractive to insects and vulnerable to disease, as we have discovered, the farmers turns to chemical pesticides to fix his broken machine.” (Big Organic” pg.149) Following the logic of industry means taking short cuts, and these short cuts lead to consequences that often cannot be paid off and add up. Pollan expresses in his two quotes, that the logic of industry brings sickness to our food, and thus the consumers. When industry manipulates nature like a machine, it morphs the closed cycle to an open one with inputs and outputs. Once that cycle is broken, there is no going back except to keep adding in inputs to try and cover up the damages that breaking cycle has done. Undermining the great evolution of rumen and all the life that exists beneath a patch of soil has led America to become the most obese country. Over time, this crisis in our food system has impacted human choices, behaviors, and ultimately the culture.
The obsession of oversimplifying nature is demonstrated in the process of making food. In the logic of industry, the three principles that drive this system to work are: big, fast, and cheap. The problem with producing huge quantities of cheap food in a short...
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