On Wednesday, April 5, Michael Pollan gave what was to be the last talk in an eight-week lecture series called "Food Politics" at UC Berkeley. Marion Nestle organized the incredible series, which hosted varied voices from a broad spectrum of those actively speaking, writing, and teaching within this new hot topic. A visiting professor in the Schools of Public Policy, Public Health, and Journalism, Ms. Nestle herself is a loud and learned voice in a movement heard mostly with grassroots-style activism. She is concerned with the not so easy questions about how we eat, how to make educated intentional choices, and how to best "Vote With Our Forks."
I have seen and heard Michael Pollan speak before. He is dynamic, funny, and astute. A prolific writer of books and articles, he's the investigative reporter we want all our newspapers to be full of. Muckrakers or truth seekers, that's for us to decide.
Wednesday's lecture had one purpose and subject. To inform us all about what he aptly calls "The Cornification of America." What our nation is doing and has historically decided to do with our gratuitous over-production of corn.
First Mr. Pollan tells us that he writes about food from a perspective we all share: consumer. To prove this point further, he begins putting out a small sampling of foodstuffs from a nearby Safeway for a little show & tell. "After a great deal of detective work," he says easily, "you end up in a cornfield in Iowa over and over."
Giving us a little background, Mr. Pollan shares the "history of the Americas through the eyes of the corn plant." Ironically, he points out, "The food plant of the conquered peoples conquers the conquerers." Currently, in the United States, corn is grown on acreage of almost equivalent size to that of New York State. A plant adaptive to many a climate and geography, Mr. Pollan points out that corn is "a perfect capitalist plant." With all that corn hungrily and greedily consumes -- from the dirt it grows in to the pesticides and fertilizer it needs to grow (more than any other crop!) -- he adds, "corn is the SUV of plants." "Corn, as a plant, is completely dependent on humans for germination," making it the best candidate for chemical agriculture.