If you read Get Rid of Sugar Once and For All! – and I suggest you do – you will be aware that I believe the devil has risen from hell and now hides in different types of sugar.
My life is transforming and sugar is no longer a part of it, which presents me with a problem given that nearly everything we eat contains sugar in one form or another.
So what shall I eat in the future? What types of foods don’t contain sugar, and if I am only just learning that sugar is so dangerous at the age of 38, what else don’t I know about the food industry that is seemingly poisoning my body?
I can’t be bothered to find out.
Fortunately, the New York Times Bestselling author Michael Pollan did find the energy and enthusiasm after posing the simple question.
What should we have for dinner?
It seems such a simple question, but as you would expect the answer is far from straightforward. In fact, I doubt anyone really knows what they are eating unless they have actually killed it, or grown, it themselves.
Pollan decides to go back to the very beginning of the food chains. From the earth to the plate, as he calls it, so he can see firsthand what our food supply chain looks like, and the results are bound in a fantastic book called The Omnivores Dilemma.
We are nothing more than corn chips
Do you like corn?
I can tell you with utmost certainty that you do. No? Well just read on.
“Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia and, increasingly, even the salmon, a carnivore by nature that the fish farmers are reengineering to tolerate corn.” Writes Pollan before continuing. “The eggs are made of corn. The milk and cheese and yoghurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically comes from Holsteins that spend their working lives indoors tethered to machines, eating corn.”
I asked my son the same question.
“It’s alright…” he said without taking his concentration away from GTA5 for a millisecond.
Yet thrust a chicken nugget under his nose and he will bite your hand off. Chicken nuggets are so popular amongst children that when they visit the zoo the chicken nugget is the only animal they are interested in seeing.
Writing about the chicken nugget, Pollan, has this to say: “What chicken it contains consists of corn, of course, but so do most of a nugget’s other constituents, including the modified corn starch that glues the thing together, the corn flour in the batter that coats it, and the corn oil in which it gets fried. Much less obviously, the leavenings and lecithin, the mono-di, and triglycerides, the attractive golden coloring, and even the citric acid that keeps the nugget ‘fresh’ can all be derived from corn.”
But why corn?
“For no other reason than it offers the cheapest calories around and because the great pile must be consumed.” Writes Pollan.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Concentration Camp?
Pollan decides to follow an ear of corn from the farmland, through the steer and ultimately into his belly. He purchases a steer known only as ‘number 534’ which came out of the belly of cow ‘number 9534’.
The calf is turned out on pasture as soon as it can stand up. Then sometime within the first six months of it’s life it is castrated and branded, a part of the book that got me thinking about the actor James Franco.
Forgive me for this brief digression.
Two summers ago I was in Los Angeles when a friend of mine was hosting a James Franco art exhibition in her antiques store. One of his exhibits was a large room with projectors at either end showing young steers being lassoed, castrated and branded.
Sitting plumb centre in the room was a podium, and on top of it was a large jar filled with testicles that used to lie nice and comfy in a steers scrotum.
The thought makes me stop typing and reach for my balls.
No anesthetic, just a knife and red-hot brand. Snip…snip…sizzle, and off the steer ran. I’m surprised I didn’t stop eating meat courtesy of Mr. Franco.
Back to the neutered number 534 and it is weaned from it’s mother – which Pollan describes as the ‘most traumatic time on a ranch for animals and ranchers alike’ – then they are taught to eat from a trough containing a concoction of liquefied fat (from their own kind), protein supplements, liquid vitamins, synthetic estrogen and the antibiotics Rumensin and Tylosin….and lot’s of corn.
Then after spending 14-16 months wallowing in its own manure, and becoming ill through the reengineered type of feeding that the animal is not designed to undertake, we shoot a bolt through its head, hang it upside down, slit its throat, skin it and then eventually eat it.
“Sooner or later some of the manure caked on these hides gets into the meat we eat.” Says Pollan.
When I think about the CAFO I immediately think of the Holocaust. On one hand you have animals that are being overfed a diet of corn with the solitary goal of getting it as fat as possible, as quickly as possible, and on the other hand you have a group of prisoners who are virtually starved to death. Two polar opposites and yet so much familiarity between how the two are treated.
Money is the Root of all Evil
There was a time when steers were raised on a diet of grass and were allowed to roam free. Back then it would take four to five years for them to gain enough weight to take them to slaughter.
That simply won’t do.
Time is of the essence.
The CAFO is mans way of speeding up the process and corn helps turn the steers into cold hard cash quicker than ever before seen in the history of agriculture.
I have a thought. Pollan is talking about the CAFO industry in the United States. I wonder if there are CAFO’s in the UK? Does the meat I eat even come from the UK, or do I eat the same type of meat as Pollan?
My head starts to hurt, and the same thought rolls through my mind on a continual loop, “why do all the best books come from America…why do all the best books come from America….”
The Pain/Pleasure Principle
It’s not the intention of the author to steer you into choosing a life devoid of meat. Instead the book is well balanced, and you can feel Pollan’s indecision as he welcomes you into his world as he follows his ear of corn through the most upsetting experiences.
It’s not all about meat either. There are chapters that delve into the Whole Foods chic, and Pollan questions whether organic food is ‘really all that?’
What the book does is create a great sense of pain to a lot of the foodstuffs that he covers in the book, and I know for surety that associating large amounts of pain to anything, will lead to that anything being cut from your life like the testicles of number 534.
The pain/pleasure principle is at the very core of habit change.
Buy the Book
I urge everyone to buy the book. There are some chapters that nearly put me to sleep, more notably on corn sex (not my choice of porn) and farming, but on the whole the truly absorbing chapters far outweighed those that didn’t rest easy on my palate.
Everyone needs to know this stuff. We have the right to make a more informed choice about what we eat, and Pollan helps you to do this by the great investigatory work he has done.
I thank you Mr. Pollan.
To Eat Meat or Not to Eat Meat That is the Question?
When I ponder a life without meat the only thing I DON”T think about is how much I will miss the taste. Perhaps spending the month of July as a vegetarian coupled with two eight-week liver cleanse diets this year has somehow changed the way my brain processes the thought of eating meat?
What I do worry about are the habitual processes of every day life. What am I going to eat when I go to my Mums for Sunday Roast? What am I going to eat at Christmas? Am I going to inconvenience everyone each time the question of a night out in a fancy restaurant comes up? How does my decision affect those closest to me such as my partner and my son? I am working in South Africa in two weeks time – what on earth and I going to eat?
I really don’t know what to do? I am well and truly stuck on the fence on this one. Do I really need the hassle of limiting my food choices? Or has the thought of number 534 having his bollocks chopped off and forced to become a corn fed cannibal injected enough pain to make me want to change?
Join me tomorrow and you’ll find out.
Photo courtesy of Bob n Renee cc @ flickr.com