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Food for Cattle

August 12, 2010

Yesterday when I came back from the Farmer’s Market, laden with produce, a man in the elevator asked me, “How does the corn look?”

“It looks good,” I said. “Everything does, actually.”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m from New Jersey, and even though my wife says it’s different here, to me, corn is only meant for one thing – food for cattle.”

He left the elevator before I could think of how to respond. I’ve had issues with corn and the cattle industry ever since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but this was the first time that I had ever actually encountered anyone who had internalized our society’s strange use of corn so deeply that he no longer considered it a food. I have to say it disturbed me deeply.

I still don’t know how we’ve come to this point, where we’ve encouraged so much growth of corn that we need to get rid of the excess by turning it into a sweetener and, perhaps worse, feeding it to animals. Cows’ stomachs aren’t meant to digest corn. Ours are. Why are the cattle eating the corn, then, instead of people? Particularly when it makes the cattle sick, so we have to give them antibiotics to keep them from dying too soon, and then we get to eat the meat from the unhealthy cows. How is this a win?

I still remember the sometimes extreme measures my mom would take in her attempt to keep our corn from being food only for the raccoons. Even though she was allergic to it and couldn’t eat much, she loved corn so much that she still grew some of it and tried all sorts of things to keep it safe. Perhaps the most memorable was putting my brother’s dirty socks out around the corn. Nothing really worked, but those few ears that we got were so precious and delicious and treasured. We wouldn’t have dreamed of giving them to an animal to eat.

I think I will stick with eating the corn myself, instead of eating the cattle that eats the corn, particularly these days when it’s fresh and sweet and delicious. I’ll let the cows eat the grass that I can’t, and we’ll both be much happier.

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