Michael Pollan – Chapter 6: The Consumer


– Corn Whiskey – superabundant, cheap, drink of choice, in the 1820s the typical American was drinking half a pint a day (more than five gallons a year)
– The Elevenses – “modern coffee break” — late-morning whiskey break
– Effects of the consumption – rise of public drunkenness, violence, family abandonment, increase in alcohol-related diseases
– Over production of corn lead to manufacturing whiskey
– Obesity – most pressing health issue, costing the health care system approximately $90 billion per year
– 3 of every 5 Americans are overweight
– 1 of every 5 Americans is obese
– Explanation – changes in lifestyle, poverty, affluence, technology, marketing, changes in diet
– Corn accounts for most of the surplus calories we are eating
– 530 million bushels of corn harvested each year — 17.5 billion pounds of high fructose corn syrup
– Thrifty Gene – hunter/gatherer ancestors to feast whenever they were able to, allowed them to build up reserves of fats against future famine
– Type II Diabetes – occurs when the body’s mechanism for managing glucose simply wears out from overuse


In the 1820’s corn whiskey became every American’s drink of choice. There was an extreme surplus of corn that caused farmers no choice but to distill it into alcohol. This made for ton of cheap whiskey! These days our high alcohol consumption back then has turned into high fat consumption. Obesity is at an all time high because food has become abundant and cheap all due to corn. According to Pollan, corn accounts for most of the surplus calories we’re growing and most of the surplus calories we are eating. Back then really the only thing you could turn corn into was whiskey. Now, corn can be made into hundreds of things, and consumers will mainly buy sweet foods. It is in oft drinks where we consume most of the calories from corn process fructose-corn syrup.The stuff is addicting and the consumption is outrageous. Everyone is super-sizing their soft drinks and I myself will sit at a restaurant and gulp down 3 sprites before my food has even come.

Processing food has become such a great strategy for consumers to eat more, and buy more! Science over the years has broken down corn and then engineered it in news ways that tug at the evolution of our appetite. Adding sugar and fat to anything will make us want more of it because it’s energy-dense and it’s what we think our body needs. I see it as such a mind-game, and it’s almost like we’re beating ourselves. What good is money if we’re all too fat and dead to use it.

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