The world of Corn

Pollan, M. (2006). The omnivore’s dilemma: A natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press. pages 15-119
For this weeks blog in Plants and Peoples Biology class we are reading Micheal Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. This is the second book from Micheal Pollan we have read in class.

So we are starting in section 1 Industrial Corn. The first chapter is called “The Plant Corn’s Conquest” there is 5 parts to this chapter, for the first part we have; 1. A naturalist in the supermarket. In this part Pollan talks about how supermarkets are teeming with plants and animals, goes on how corn is in everything we don’t think about cause the label doesn’t say corn so we don’t think it in everyday products but we are wrong. Pollan quotes ” Read the ingredients on the label of any processed food and, provided you know the chemical names it travels under, corn is what you will find.” So when you read; modified or unmodified starches, glucose syrup, maltodextrin, crystalline fructose, ascorbic acid, lecithin, dextrose, lactic acid, lysine, maltose, HFCS, MSG, polyols, caramel colour and xanthan gum equal corn. That a bit scary corn in everything from coffee whitener to ketchup to frozen waffles to hot sauce and its in non food items as well liken toothpaste to trash bags even to wax coating on the cardboard that our produce comes in. Its in everything.

Part 2. Corn Walking.

This part Pollan talks about how the descendants of the Maya living in Mexico still refer to themselves as “the corn people.” But is this statement really true know that we learned everything we eat or use is made from corn. In this part he talks more about carbon part of the corn plant and how carbon testing is done. We learn that most plants during photosynthesis the plant create three carbon atoms, corn makes four that why its nicknames is C-4, while most other plants are C-3. Here is some scientific info from Pollan you’ll need to understand the next few lines cause I sure needed it cause the last time I read about atoms was back in Gr 10 science and I’ll been out of high school for the last 10 years doing the math its been 12 years since I was in Gr 10 so I’m more then rusty on my atoms. “Some carbon atoms are called isotopes, have more than the usual complement of six protons and six neutrons which makes C-12, giving them a slightly different atomic weight. C-13 for example, has six protons and seven neutrons.” So for whatever reason when C-4 plants like corn goes scavenging for its 4 pack of carbons it takes more carbon 13 then normal plants. So scientist have figured out how much carbon is in a human diet by taking a finger nail or hair sample. So the higher the ratio of carbon 13 to carbon 12 in the person hair or nail sample, means the human more corn in their diet then others. So when researchers have compared America and Mexicans we have way more corn in our diet has Pollan said “Americas look like corn chips with legs”making us the corn people.

3. The rise of Zea Mays

What is Zea Mays, is the scientific name for corn Zea is the genus name and Mays being the species names, and corn is the common name for this plants.  Pollan talks the plants world’s success and corn’s triumph. And talks was it really our idea that invention of agriculture or was evolving strategy of the plants and animals to get us advance in their interest. And has Pollan put is “No other group of species gained more from its association with human than the edible grasses, and no grass has reaped more from agriculture than Zea Mays, today the worlds’ most important cereal crop. So how did corn become the world’s most important cereal crop, well it all goes back to the spring of 1621 when Squanto who was a Native American who taught the Pilgrims how to plant maize which we call corn. The colonist recognized the value of this plant, no other plants could produce that much food has the corn plant.

4. Married to Man

In this part is about how the corn plant is dependent on humans, corn would of gone extincted without the aid of humans to removed the husk, separated the seeds and plant them. You can’t just plant a whole corncob in its husk and expect it to grow, it just won’t work. So corn has been come the most domesticated plant, corn became totally dependent on humans when it evolved it husked ears. But what did corn looked like before it evolved into what we call corn now a days, it was weedy grass called Teosinte which we believed that corn descended from. Teosinte it has no ears, bears only a handed full of tiny naked seeds. So how does this weedy grass turn into the stocks of corn we are used to seeing today, mutations is how it happens. Pollan quotes the botanist Hugh Iltis is a “catastrophic sexual transmutation: the transfer of the plant’s female organs from the top of the grass to monstrous sheathed ear in the middle of the stalk.


5. Corn Sex

Corn is self-fertilized and wind-pollinated like most grasses. One corn plants can have 14 million to 18 million pollen grains per plant, that is a lot of pollen. When the male flower release it pollen to pollinate the waiting female flowers by getting it pollen on the silk that emerge from the cobs of corn. The pollen’s nucleus divides into two, then the twin nucleus travel down the silk to the flower ovary and then the magic happens and the flower become germinated and goes to seed.

Chapter two is called The Farm, its broken up into to 7 parts, the first part is called 1. One Farmer, 129 Eaters, 2. Planting the City of Corn,3. Vanishing Species, 4 There goes the Sun, 5. A Plague of Cheap Corn, 6. The Sage of Purdue, and 7. The Naylor Curve.In this chapter Pollan talks to George Naylor who works on his family’s 320 acres farm in Greene County in Iowa. George main crop is corn and soybean but it got it start back in 1919 with George grandfather who had grown corn but it also had fruits and other vegetable as well oats, hay, and alfalfa to be feed to the livestock. Back then the farm only produce enough of food to feed his family and 12 other american families compare to the now there is less then 2 million american farms to feed the rest of us. How did we go from feeding only 12 families to millions of people, to do that the corn and soybeans had to be modified with hybrids corn and soybean. That how GMO was born.

Before it was seas of corn and soybeans there was more diversity. Corn was only the fourth most common crop first it was horse because there wasn’t tracker everything was horse drawn, then came cattle, chicken then it was corn followed but the rest of the livestock and fruits and vegetables. There where fences everywhere and everyone had livestock, but now Greene Country is black now, people stop farming, livestock became more industrial and move inside. And instead of fields of different food crops you had seas of corn and soybeans.

To grow these seas of corn we need to figured out a way to unlock growing more of this plants and growing it every year. Before you could only grow corn twice in five years’ cause it would the suck out all the nutrition out of the soil and if you grew corn to often the land would be come “corn sick” and you couldn’t grow as many. Until 1947 after the world war 2 we started using chemical fertilizer, made from synthetic nitrogen. Which feed the corn crops letting the farmers grow more at one time and grow corn crops every year. But sometimes a lot of one thing isn’t a good thing with the being so much corn the corn prices drop because it flooding the market. Today corn sell as a dollar cheaper then the cost of growing it. How is this well back in the 20s and 30s corn had fallen to zero, because there was so much of it and we couldn’t eat it fast enough to keep up with how much was coming in. So the government came up with a farm policy a grain reserve. So for food that could be stored like corn, the government came up with a “target price” and when corn drop below this target price the farmer would go to the government and take out a loan and use their crop has collateral and the farmer pays off the loan when he sells the corn or if the price stays low he can give the corn to pay off the loan. Times have changes so have the farm policy but the farmers are subsidized and the farmer will take the cheaper cost cause the government will pay the rest.

In the other chapter he talks about the elevator, the feedlot, the processing plant, the consumer and the meal. Pollan talks about each stage of the corn goes through in detail. This book was sure an eye opener for me.






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