31 August 2009

A corny story, Pt. I

Biology instructors regularly teach and discuss the theory of carrying capacity. This is a term used for exactly how many individuals in a population of a species that the environment around them can feed and support. Here is a grossly simplified example:

If there's 1,000 acres of grass, this land can support 100 rabbits. If there's only 100 rabbits, there will only be 10 foxes. The foxes eat the rabbits and if they don't eat, they die. The fox population remains steady as long as the rabbit population remains steady and the food available to the rabbits remains steady. Each is dependent on another. Populations ebb and flow with the environment and resources. Right?

All animals seem to follow this pattern, but most biologists will argue that humans have yet to reach their carrying capacity. On one hand, they appear to be right. Our population has been ever increasing exponentially each year, which is illustrated by this graph.

How does all this have anything to do with what you eat?

I'd argue all day long that our world's carrying capacity of humans was met long ago around the turn of the 20th century. That's when we started playing with nature. Just like we've manipulated corn into high fructose corn syrup, we've manipulated the food supply and therefore the population. There's simply too many people in the world to support and feed in a healthful manner (using the current system).

Let's go back to the turn of the century when the face of farming began to change. At one point, pastures were filled with horses and cattle and fields filled of a large variety of vegetables and this helped to ensure that if the demand for a particular crop declined or there were poor yields of another, there would still be food on the table (for the farmer and us). Through a series of unfortunate events, the government and corporations in the farming industry began to encourage monocultures. Instead of a large variety of crops and livestock, farmers began focusing on just one of two things: corn and soybeans. They'd pack their fields full of genetically modified seeds that could produce more calories per acre than we had ever thought possible before. Farms became less of a farm and more of a factory. More corn equals less demand for corn and less demand for corns equals a lower price. Farmers were hardly making enough to break even anymore. It started to cost more to grow than it's actually worth at market.

So how did we fix this? We now had an industry dependent on the success of corn, so the government told them to grow more corn and then paid them for it. All this corn had to go somewhere so we taught our cows and chickens how to eat it. We constructed chemical ingedients out of it. We pump it into our cars.

So why corn? What's it's deal?

More to come...

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