Okay, book club devotees. Don't forget to finish reading Section I. I'm moving the discussion thread up as a gentle reminder...
Here are the discussion questions for the first section, Industrial - Corn. I've tried to include a question that touched on at least one point in each chapter. And here we go...
1. Before reading the first chapter, did you know how pervasive corn and its byproducts were in the foods we eat?
2. In chapter 2, Michael Pollan claims that modern monoculture corn farming is basically the conversion of fossil fuels into corn, where it takes around 50 gallons of oil per acre of corn. He also states than it takes more than 1 calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy for animal consumption. Do you think that the price of corn and its byproducts should more accurately reflect the true costs of production? Are you willing to pay significantly more to make up for this discrepancy down the line?
3. In chapter 3, we find out that 1/3 of all the corn grown in the U.S. is sold to a select few companies, Cargill being one of the biggest (as well as the biggest privately held corporation in the world). These companies also are the biggest winners regarding government subsidies. Do you feel that this should change, or that the subsidies help out the right people?
4. Chapter 4 exposes the problems with feeding corn to livestock animals that never used to eat it. The benefits are many -- cheap feed, faster growth to market. And, in regards to beef, feeding corn results in a flesh that marbles nicely (as well as in those that eat the beef in turn :). Do the benefits outweigh drawbacks such as increased animal sickness, issues with the feedlot environment (overcrowding, filthy conditions)?
5. In chapter 5, we learn that wet milling of corn for human consumption requires 10 calories of fossil fuel energy burned for every 1 calorie of food produced. The differential is enormous, yet with farm subsidies, the big winners are, again, the manufacturers. For example, it costs approximately 4 cents of commodity corn to product one box of cereal, yet you pay $4 for the processed food. Is this fair? Is it possible that the manufacture of cereal costs that much more than the materials themselves for this sort of margin? Or do you think the consumer is getting fleeced?
6. Chapter 6 states that the farm bills were designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, thereby guaranteeing that the cheapest calories will continue to be the unhealthiest. Based on what you've read in this section, will you do anything to change this (e.g. contact your legislators towards creating an equitable farm bill, avoiding or limiting your consumption of these products, etc.)?
7. Is it a bad thing that we have become a "race of corn eaters", or do you think, in the grand scheme of things, it really matters whether or not we are "corn chips with legs"?
You have the month of May to read this section and post your comments or bring up new discussion questions. So, keep in mind you can post a comment or question on anything you read in Section I. These questions are here to get the discussion rolling...
Also, if I stated anything inaccurately, please feel free to correct me!