Monday, March 10, 2008

reading notes on OD section one

Today over lunch, I finished the corn section, one of three food chains Michael Pollan examines in Omnivore’s Dilemma. In a series of short chapters, Pollan introduces us to the following: corn (botanical notes, historical context, uses), a Iowa farmer who grows corn, the government’s farm policies (subsidies), and the corporations that have insinuated corn into places you wouldn’t imagine. Pollan also follows the stream of corn from the Iowa farmer’s field to the grain elevator and beyond to the feedlot where corn comprises the diet of cattle and to processing plant where corn is transformed to HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), ethanol, syrups, starches, and food additives. Finally, Pollan treats his family to a meal at McDonalds, after which he details all the nastiness in their orders, but also the degree to which corn exists in the food they ate.

Of course throughout, there are astonishing and horrifying facts and statistics. The following moved me to sign up the boys for soccer and renew my vow to resist all processed and fast food:
Three of every five Americans are overweight; one of every five is obese. The disease formerly known as adult-onset diabetes has had to be renamed Type II diabetes since it now occurs so frequently in children. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association predicts that a child born in 2000 has a one-in-three chance of developing diabetes. (An African American child’s chances are two in five.) Because of diabetes and all the other health problems that accompany obesity, today’s children may turn out to be the first generation of Americans whose life expectancy will actually be shorter than that of their parents.

These findings are sobering. Fast food appears very rarely in my diet. Still, I couldn’t help but take stock of everything I’d eaten over the weekend, trying to assess the damage. Even though the amount of processed food I ate was minimal, I can’t help but think of it as pure poison. And, I am guilty of caving to the boys' requests for chicken fingers (Tysons—horrors, I know) and macaroni and cheese (often Annie's organic, but sometimes homemade), just because I can't face their objections over trying something new or eating something with onions in it or food that's spicy or obscured by sauce. I'm doing them a disservice and need to find healthier alternatives for their quick meals.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma isn’t going to dramatically change my diet, which isn’t perfect but is already grounded in good principles. The book will, however help reinforce healthier eating practices and (hopefully) make it easier to reject the occasional cravings for junk.

Up next: section two—grass.

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