Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 8, 2009 12 Adar 5769

Where the obesity grows

By George Will


Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | We're from I-o-way, I-o-way,
State of all the land
Joy on ev'ry hand . . .
That's where the tall corn grows.
— Iowa's unofficial song


Tom Vilsack, Iowa's former governor, calls his "the most important department in government," noting that the Agriculture Department serves education through school nutrition programs and serves diplomacy by trying to wean Afghanistan from a poppy-based (meaning heroin-based) economy. But Vilsack's department matters most because of the health costs of the American diet. If Michael Pollan is right, the problem is rooted in politics and, in a sense, Iowa.


Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," says that after World War II, the government had a huge surplus of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient of explosives — and fertilizer. Furthermore, pesticides could be made from ingredients of poison gases. Since 1945, the food supply has increased faster than America's population — faster even than Americans can increase their feasting.


Agricultural commodity prices generally fall. But since a rare surge in food prices gave the Nixon administration a political scare, government policy, expressed in commodity subsidies, has been, Pollan writes, to sell "large quantities of calories as cheaply as possible," especially calories coming from corn.


FREE SUBSCRIPTION TO INFLUENTIAL NEWSLETTER

Every weekday NewsAndOpinion.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". HUNDREDS of columnists and cartoonists regularly appear. Sign up for the daily update. It's free. Just click here.

"All flesh is grass" says the scripture. Much of the too-ample flesh of Americans (three of five are overweight; one in five is obese) comes from corn, which is a grass. A quarter of the 45,000 items in the average supermarket contain processed corn. Fossil fuels are involved in planting, fertilizing, harvesting, transporting and processing the corn. America's food industry uses about as much petroleum as America's automobiles do.


During World War II, when meat, dairy products and sugar were scarce, heart disease plummeted. It rebounded when rationing ended. "When you adjust for age," Pollan writes, "rates of chronic diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes are considerably higher today than they were in 1900." Type 2 diabetes — a strange epidemic: one without a virus, bacteria or other microbe — was called adult-onset diabetes until children began getting it. Now it is a $100 billion-a-year consequence of, among other things, obesity related to a corn-based diet, which is partly because steaks and chops have pushed plants off the plate.


Four of the top 10 causes of American deaths — coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer — have, Pollan says, "well-established links" to diet, particularly through "the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat." What he calls America's "national eating disorder" is not just that Americans reportedly eat one in five meals in cars (gas stations make more from food and cigarettes than from gasoline) and that one in three children eat fast food every day. He also means the industrialization of agriculture, wherein we developed a food chain that derives too much of its calories — energy — not from the sun through photosynthesis but from fossil fuels.


In 1900, Vilsack says, Iowa's population was larger than California's and Florida's combined. But it is the only state whose population did not double in the 20th century. Yet Iowa's fewer farmers, planting (as government has exhorted) "fencerow to fencerow" and deploying an arsenal of chemical fertilizers, can tickle five tons of corn from an acre.


Corn, which covers 125,000 square miles of America — about the size of New Mexico — fattens 100 million beef cattle and at least that many bipeds. Much of the river of cheap corn becomes an ocean of high-fructose corn syrup, which by 1984 was sweetening Coke and Pepsi. Disposing of the corn also requires passing it through animals' stomachs. Corn, together with pharmaceuticals and other chemicals — a Pollan axiom: "You are what what you eat eats, too" — has made it profitable to fatten cattle on feedlots rather than grass, cutting by up to 75 percent the time from birth to slaughter. Eating corn nourished by petroleum-based fertilizers, a beef cow consumes almost a barrel of oil in its lifetime.


Vilsack's department is entwined with the food industry that produces a food supply unhealthily simplified by the dominance of a few staples such as corn. This diet, Pollan says, has made many Americans both overfed and undernourished.


Hippocrates enjoined doctors: "Do no harm." He also said something germane to a nation that is harming itself with its knives and forks: "Let food be thy medicine." That should be carved in stone over the entrance to Vilsack's very important department.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

George Will's latest book is "With a Happy Eye but: America and the World, 1997-2002" to purchase a copy, click here. Comment on this column by clicking here.

Archives

© 2006 WPWG

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles