Food Sustainability with Michael Pollan

The Martha Stewart Show, October 2009

What you choose to eat not only affects your health, but also the health of the planet, says author Michael Pollan. And one ingredient that has absolutely infiltrated our diets, to the detriment of both our bodies and our ecosystem, is corn.

Corn, Corn Everywhere
If you trace back the ingredients in a processed meal, you'll always end up at corn. Everywhere you turn, all the ingredients you cannot pronounce -- those are all made from corn.

There are some 45,000 items in the average American supermarket, and more than a quarter of them now contain corn. Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the beef we eat; corn is refined into the high fructose corn syrup that sweetens soda; corn is shaped into cereal or distilled into any of the hundreds of food additives in our processed food.

The Dangers of Corn Overload
There are several reasons why it's not a good idea to base your whole diet around a single food species:

Less Nutrition
We are omnivores, designed by evolution to consume a wide variety of nutrients. The need for a diverse diet is built into our biology, and there are all sorts of important nutrients we simply can't get from a single item.

To turn a bushel of corn into so many different foods involves a lot of processing, and processing diminishes the nutritional value of any food. People who exclusively eat a fast-food diet (highly processed, corn-based food), not only get fat but are actually malnourished because they're not getting the essential micronutrients present in fruits and vegetables.

More Pollution
Growing all that corn is also disastrous for the environment. Corn is a greedy plant, as farmers say, requiring more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop. It also requires more pesticides, thus polluting the environment.

Feeding livestock corn on feedlots produces huge amounts of pollution, too, not to mention misery in animals. Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn; they are designed to eat grass. Just as it is not healthy for cattle to eat corn, it is not healthy for us to eat corn-fed cattle.

What You Can Do
So how do we change the food industry? By voting with our fork. Choose organic products, shop and buy food from your local farmers' market, and take the time to cook. Cooking at home is one of the best ways to take control of your meals.

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