The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

by Michael Pollan

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What does Michael Pollan mean when he says we are "processed corn walking"? How does this compare to Mayans viewing themselves as "people of the corn"?

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Michael Pollan says that his description of us as "corn people" is the same as the Mayan self-description, since neither is intended as a metaphor. The Maya traditionally depended on corn for their survival, and so do we, though our diet has become even more centered on corn than theirs was. Pollan shows that corn pervades our diet, in ways which we are, for the most part, quite unaware of. He gives the example of the chicken nugget. Most people probably know that chickens are fed on corn and that the nugget is then battered in cornflour and fried in corn oil, but even then, Pollan points out,

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.

Pollan argues that over-dependence on corn has led to ecological damage and sickness. In particular, practically all livestock in America, from pigs to salmon, is forced to eat corn. This causes special problems for cows, which regularly become ill on a corn-based diet (being adapted to grass-based diets) and have to be kept alive with antibiotics. When corn-fed cows are slaughtered, their meat contains higher levels of dangerous fats, making it less healthy for the consumer than grass-fed beef. This is just one of many ways in which a corn-based diet is damaging.

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