In my opinion, the better title for Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” should have been “The CORNivore’s Dilemma”.
Our kids are now guinea pigs of a massive experiment conducted by fast food restaurants using industrialized animal farming techniques. Never in the history of human evolution have we witnessed such a drastic change in our eating habits within a generation with such far reaching environmental consequences. In just one generation we have moved from using our kitchens less than our cars to feed our kids with their all favorite hamburger meals. So before we bury our grand mothers let us restore the eating habits that allowed us to conquer the world.
In the last 50 years, since the explosion of fast food restaurants, our meat consumption has increased steadily and we have joined the carnivores’ club. Interestingly, the success of fast food restaurants has much to do with our appetite for meat. Until the industrialization of animal farming, meat was a meal spared for special occasion even in the United States. The CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) built after WW II, were geared to produce meat for cheap by feeding government subsidized corn to the beef cattle. Since the animals cannot digest corn they are given antibiotics to keep them from falling sick. I guess this is to keep down the cost of hamburgers. This is unbelievable considering that these antibiotics make the animal waste harbor antibiotic-resistant bugs that are slowly getting into our water ways. The E.coli outbreak was only a warning of a more catastrophic environmental disaster by these bugs in the making.
The Mad Cow disease was our first warning that we went too far with our CAFOs. The mad cow disease is the result of feeding bovine serum to CAFO animals as protein substitute. Perhaps, this is because it was easier to extract bovine serum within the premises of CAFOs without additional transportation logistics. Again, this is to keep the cost of hamburgers low. I am more outraged by our response to this. We just replaced the bovine serum with porcine serum; as if you just took a wrong turn, which can be fixed by a quick u-turn.
So far we have driven past two flashing red, Mad Cow and E.coli, and continue to speed missing two flashing yellow signs that read “Overweight” and “Heart Disease”.
The adult obesity rate of 30% in South L.A, which is 10% greater than the rest of LA, is believed to correlate with the 900 fast food restaurants in the area according to L.A. County Department of Public Health. Believe it or not, the L.A. City Council adopted landmark legislation in July of 2008 mandating a one-year moratorium on the building of new fast-food eateries in a 32-square-mile area as a health measure.
Let us admit, we are drunk and our brake just failed.
Habits are easy to justify and hard to break. We justify our increased appetite for meat by believing and make believe that non-meat diets do not provide complete protein. We argue that we cannot survive on plants because we do not have rumens like herbivores. This is interesting considering that meat consumption has never been the basis of advanced civilization and cultural development in the entire human evolution. Furthermore, based on the anatomy of our teeth, length of our intestine, acidity of our digestive track and structure of our salivary gland humans are classified as frugivore (fruit-eaters). However, by learning to cook, we have transformed ourselves into the world’s most dangerous and all consuming omnivores.
Fortunately, our digestive system is a democratic machine. As a self made omnivore we have greatly expanded our source of proteins, carbohydrates and nutrients. Proteins from both animal and plant sources are ruthlessly broken down into amino acids by our digestive system. These amino acids are then absorbed and used as building blocks to make muscles and other proteins as and when our body demands. Out of the 20 amino acids, some are essential in our diet. Other amino acids are called unessential amino acids because our body knows how to make them. The source that contains all essential amino acids is called and labeled as complete protein.
From the perch of the modern science we now know that although pulses, legumes and cereals individually are limited in some essential amino acids, a diet balanced with legumes, pulses and cereal provide all essential amino acids (complete protein). For example, while rice, wheat and maize lack lysine (one of the essential amino acid) and lentils lack methionine (another essential amino acid), when cooked and served together provides all essential amino acids in a meal just like meat. Besides, soybean, milk and cheese have been proved to be a complete protein by modern day researchers and can safely replace meat in our diet.
Gift of cooking has made humans the most powerful omnivore on this planet. So the choice of diet is ours to make. The industrialized animal farming aided by government subsidized corn is threatening to turn us into a CORNivore. If humans are the most successful animal species on this planet, corn is the most successful plant. Before corn tames humans, let us stop eating meat, which consumes corn, which will consume us.