|Photo by Michelle Meiklejohn|
I think we can thank Michael Pollen and his book, The Omnivores Dilemma, for bringing to our attention the 'cornification' of our society. He details the history of corn for us and how it made its rise to prominence in our diet in just a few hundred years. It is amazing to learn that "there are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them contain corn." (2) We use corn flour for batter, corn oil for frying, corn starch for thickening, high fructose corn syrup for sweetening, xanthan gum for binding, caramel color for coloring, and the list goes on. It is estimated that the average American consume 56 lbs of corn and an additional 43 lbs of corn syrup per year (3). I'm guessing you had no idea you were eating so much corn, did you? It's hiding in our food and we are eating more corn than we realize.
Corn is not only in the products on the shelves, but it is also in the feed we give to the livestock - chickens, cows, pigs and even fish - that we raise for meat consumption. Cattle are not designed to eat corn, they evolved on grass. Corn in their diet causes them all sorts of ugly health problems. As a consequence, antibiotics are routinely fed with corn to allow cattle to continue consuming the very food that is making them sick. This practice is courting disaster by encouraging the creation of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Of particular concern is a strain of e-coli lethal to humans that lives happily in the normally neutral rumen of cattle. Our acidic stomach tends to kill this strain of e-coli, but with the increase in corn fed cattle, their rumen is becoming as acidic as our own and the e-coli is evolving to survive in this new environment (see Figure 1 and 2). How can we protect ourselves from this lethal bacteria when we consume contaminated meat? (3) The answer is, we can't.
If you stop to think about it, fish didn't evolve on corn, and neither did cattle, so why are we feeding it to them? Unless your ancestral heritage is of Native American descent, chances are your ancestor's digestive system only saw corn for the first time in the last three to four hundred years. What that means is that our bodies are not likely designed to eat it any more than cattle or fish. The corn grown today is vastly different from the corn grow 7,000 years ago, which had smaller ears and fewer kernels than today's modern varieties. Thanks to the advances in cross-hybridization, our food is now filled with corn. The problem is that we can't digest corn well. Corn and corn bi-products can be toxic to us and are contributing to far more than just skewed fatty acid ratios. I'll tell you why in Part II.
(2) The Omnivores Dilemma, by Michael Pollen, p19
(4) The Omnivores Dilemma, by Michael Pollen, p82