Michael Pollan – Chapter 4: The Feedlot


– Corn – found in the American Middle West
– Corn has colonized some 125,000 square miles of the American continent (area twice the size of NY State)
– Poky Feeders, population of 37,000
– Pollan purchased an eight-month-old calf from the Blair Ranch for $598 – Paying Poky Feeders $1.60 a day for his room and board
– Pollan wanted to learn how the industrial food chain transforms bushels of corn into steaks
– 60% of corn goes to feeding livestock, also goes to feeding America’s 100 million beef cattle
– CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation
– The urbanization of America’s animal population would not have taken place if it weren’t for the federally subsidized corn
– Corn was sold for less than it cost to grow
– “Cow-Calf” Operation – first stage in the production of a hamburger and the state least changed by the modern industrialization of meat
– Four Meatpacking Companies – Tysons subsidiary, IBP, Cargill subsidiary Excel, Swift & Company, National
– Rumen – organ, 20 gallon fermentation tank in which a resident population of bacteria dines on grass
– Cows raised on grass take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on a richer diet
– Corn is the cheapest, most convenient source of calories on the market
– Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) – mad cow disease
– Result of highly based corn diet – bloat, impairs the liver’s function
– Slaughter 400 cows per hour


It took bravery and a strong stomach for Pollan to go on the journey he did. Michael Pollan wanted to learn how the industrial food chain transforms bushels of corn into steaks. Corn can practically be found in everything we eat and used for practically everything, including the main source of feed for cattle. There is so much of it, that the surplus is given to whatever source can dispose of it. Pollan walked his audience through the evolution of corn and how the urbanization of America’s animal population has catapulted with the help from the advent of cheap, federally subsidized corn.

Michael Pollan examines how having cows feed on grass makes complete ecological sense. Yet, cows these days are living on the feedlot of only ever tasting corn. The reasoning is, that cows fed on grass take longer to slaughter and it is more efficient to feed them a diet of corn, protein and fat supplements, and arsenal drugs. Pollan started his journey after purchasing a calf. His idea was to follow the life cycle of a steer. Pollen met his calf and went with him on his first day to the feedlot. Pollen described the feedlot like going to the big city, built upon America’s surplus of corn. I found it surprising that cows must be fed pharmaceuticals so that their digestive systems can even tolerate corn. Why feed the animal something it’s body rejects? Pollan describes the thousand pounds of corn, plus liquified fat, vitamins, protein supplements, etc. that is prepared to be fed to the cows each day. It seems unjust and like they’re eating fake food! Health problems have also been researched to have come from corn-fed beef. Producing cheap will only produce consequences!

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