Monoculture and the Existence of Obesity Essay

Submitted By nunz19
Words: 1057
Pages: 5

From the early beginnings of agriculture to the modern, large-scale farming operations seen today, Homo sapiens and Zea mays have mutually evolved into the ascendant species on Earth. This essay examines the paradox that subsists between ecological diversity and human civilization, how this paradox acts as catalyst to monoculture, and how monoculture underscores the obesity epidemic occurring today. Further analysis of monoculture confirms the practice a detriment to the environment. Specifics will be drawn from the relationship between humanity and corn, as Zea mays have had a profound effect on human history. Complexity in nature acts as a narrow factor not only for the human species, but also all the species of earth. Ecosystems residing between the tropics possess immense biodiversity that creates barriers to human expansion, often in the form of disease. As early humans migrated from tropical ecosystems to less elaborate, temperate ecosystems, a “niche-shift” took place (McNeill 55). Homo sapiens found themselves in a less-resilient habitat, inhibiting new survival tactics. Agriculture arose as means to make survival simpler. Rather than expending energy gathering edible plant species, humans began growing those species on plots of land. Inherently a “desire to liberate food from nature” arose amongst groups of humans, which came to be the early workings of human civilization, known as settlements (Pollan 117). Cultivation of plants as means of simplification allowed humans to settle, and the social interactions that took place to encourage the survival of these settlements fashioned human civilization. Human civilization then, is a simplification of the natural, complex web of life. Modern monoculture is hyper-simplification of the ecosystem that intensifies the paradox between ecological complexity and human civilization. Agriculture, coupled with the simplifying nature of humanity has come to produce monoculture. The term “hyper-simplification” is used to describe monoculture due to the extreme deduction of biodiversity it causes. Thus monoculture is both dependant on, and representative of the paradox between ecological diversity and human civilization. David Pollan describes how corn contributes to an “Industrial Food Chain” in his work Omnivore’s Dilemma. A surplus of corn in the late 19th century encouraged humans to look for alternative uses for the crop. This surplus is the reason why Americans are “ personally responsible for consuming a ton of corn a year.” The starch contained in each kernel of corn served as another component of human simplification as the “ complex food is reduced to simple molecules, such as sugar.” A process known as “wet milling,” what Pollan describes as “Industrial Digestion,” was developed by humans to breakdown each kernel of corn into simpler, more manipulative molecules. The most notable development occurred in the 1970’s when High Fructose Corn Syrup was derived from a kernel of corn. Today this derivative of corn accounts for 530 million bushels of corn per year. Because the corn syrup is a cheaper alternative to cane sugar, it is found in everything from soft drinks to cereal. Corn is now the building block to what Pollan describes as an “Industrial Food Chain,” one that completely “liberates” food from nature. As mentioned before disease is often nature’s way of thwarting an over-populated species; the disease America must combat is obesity. America is facing an epidemic directly related to humanity’s love affair with corn. Because corn is the most widely cultivated crop in America, it can be expected that it has contributed greatly to the epidemic. The “industrial digestion” process breaks-down essential components of the complex starch, leaving little to no nutritional value. A staple of American diet is processed foods, such as fast food or white bread. Additives and preservatives only decrease nutritional value, favoring a