May 30th, 2007


QPB again

I got two books from QPB yesterday that I did not order. I didn't remember if I'd ordered them so I opened the package. Perhaps I should just send them all back...but I won't. And the reason is that even when I think there is no way I'll read those two or three books, sometimes I do.

I am reading one from a previous shipment right now. The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. When that book arrived in the mail I sneered at it, thinking why would I care about the omnivore? I'm a vegetarian! But then I read a few reviews and started to look at the book now and again. Those passing glances finally led me to pick it up and start reading it.

Already I know this is a remarkable book. And I know why it has garnered such praise. In this early part of the book the author is following the fate of corn. Specifically, "industrial corn", the type now grown in such quantities that the price continues to drop, so the farmer sells it for less than it cost to grow it. The farmer survives - barely - on government subsidies paid directly to him. What this means is that the companies - huge agribusiness companies - that buy the corn buy it for less than it costs to grow. A great deal for them, a horrible deal for the rest of us, not to mention that farmer. The only way to recoup costs is for the farmer to grow yet more corn. This cycle breaks all economic and ecological rules and is the direct result of our brilliant governmental policies. Which are, of course, developed with a little help from those massive agribusinesses.

The original price supports for produce made more sense. The New Deal policies worked rather well. But they've been chipped away until we have an entirely different animal now.

Pollan has discovered that this corn, this one "commodity" - for commodity is what it has become - has been responsible for massive changes in our lives, few of them for the better. As he puts it, the massive yields of corn have contributed both to obesity and starvation.

Stay tuned. Better yet, get the book! What a wow!