The beginning of corn as a commodity came in about 1850 with the grain elevator and railroads. Corn was no longer sold in burlap sacks and was instead compiled in huge amounts and 'poured' into the trains to be taken across the country. The grading system also contributed to this shift because starting in 1856 a crop of corn was giving a grade and all the corn in that crop was guaranteed to be of that grade. In the past, the quality of the corn had been tested directly by the buyer before purchase. With the new system, farmers no longer cared about anything except quantity. With commodity corn the only thing that matters is how many bushels you can get per acre. Making corn a commodity made the whole process not about the farmer but just about the amount of corn. The government has helped shift corn to a commodity by subsidizing it and paying farmers for their corn to keep the prices down. This could be having severe negative impacts on our health over time. The corn being produced is of much lower quality than ever before because there is such little regulation on it, and the consumers do not see the actual corn in what we eat therefore we cant tell that it is bad quality. If farmers get paid based on how much corn they produce not the quality then they will not take effort and spend money to create a better quality product.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Corn became a commodity when it stopped being seen as individual packages. Before, corn was sold in sacks from farmers to specific buyers. When packaged in such containers, quality, type, where the corn was grown, and other such factors were important. Born became a commodity when it began being sold in bulk. With corn elevators, large trains and other such mass production tools, corn was seen as a liquid of sorts. Farmers would grow their corn, sell it to a corporation that would combine all the corn into one tank and distribute it to buyers. These new techniques made corn hard to track. Buyers could no longer trace the corn back to the grower or find out the corn's quality. To further obfuscate this process, corn was graded for quality. By putting a number on the corn, the government insured that the corn was of a certain quality. This made people view corn as a uniform commodity, contributing to the sense that it was simply more of the same. Because people don't look into the actual quality of corn or where it comes from, this could affect our health as some corn may not be up to par. Some corn could be rated with a certain number, but could be at a lower quality. Also, the decreased importance placed on quality by the government and in turn by farmers, could lead to lower quality, less healthy corn.
Before 1850, corn's sole purpose was to be a food, grown by farmers for consumers. The shift from corn as food to corn as commodity was driven by the growing railroad system and the invention of the grain elevator, which made it so that corn would no longer be sold as individual sacks of grain to individual consumers by the farmers that grew it, but rather as a bulk, machine-distributed, trackless commodity. With the institution of "number 2 corn" distinction, the incentive to grow corn with unique qualities was drowned out by the greater incentive of quantity. Michael Pollan describes George Naylor's commodity corn "not as a specific physical entity you can hold in your hands but as a generic, fungible quantity, no different from any other bushel of number 2 field corn." The shift from corn as food to corn as commodity has changed the path of corn harvest to corn consumption from a direct and simple one to one that is much more complicated.As a commodity, corn is valued for its quantity, which creates a huge surplus of corn, and in order to consume this surplus most of it (apparently three out of every five kernels) goes to factory farms to be transformed into unhealthy factory farm meat. It seems to be that an excess of corn simply means an excess of calories, and if those calories are being concentrated into unhealthy foods like tons of meat, high-fructose corn syrup, and unrecognizable processed forms, the health of the people in our country who eat those foods will suffer.
The main differences between corn as food and corn as commodity is that corn as a commodity is that the goal of corn as food is quality over quantity while the goal of corn as a commodity is quantity over quality. ‘Food’ corn is how corn naturally was grown, with a lot of tender loving care and attention to each corn plant. As Pollan said, “farmers prided themselves on a panoply of qualities in their crop: big ears, plump kernels, straight rows, various colors, even the height of their corn plants became a point of pride”. Unfortunately, due to some ridiculous monopolistic power given to the middle-men corn companies such as Cargill, corn has basically become a commodity. These companies have managed to get very bad, pro-these companies, anti-corn farmer laws passed. The government has been too disorganized/ineffective to stop it. The quality of this commodity corn is non-existent, being supposedly too dry for human consumption in any form except corn syrup and other chemical additives. Since this cheap corn is added to everything, it has had a serious impact on our health. Many forms of commodity corn, such as high fructose corn syrup, are bad for us, and have caused us to become obese and mal-nourished. Such as the chips I ate today. So good, but probably not good for me. Dang corn chips.
I think Pollan’s and the agronomist Salvador’s first reaction to seeing the huge stack of muddy corn explains this difference well. When seeing the mountain of corn wastefully sitting in the mud, they immediately thought it was terrible, wasteful, almost sacrilegious. This reaction makes sense because they first viewed corn as food, and wasting that immense amount of food seemed almost heretical. However, the view of corn as a commodity evolved in the 1850s, as its market broadened and became more generalized. A disconnection or gap between the farmer who carefully grew and harvested the corn and the chary purchaser who carefully selected his corn from the market grew and grew, as corn became just a generic product. In 1856, the Chicago Board of Trade developed the grading system that set a standard for number 2 corn, making all corn at or above this standard the exact same, no matter what small farmer grew it. Thus, farmers, rightfully wanting to make money, no longer had a need to have pride about the characteristics of their corn: its color, the way it was grown, the kernel size, or even the height of their plants. None of that mattered after this standard was created. All that made them money was the number of bushels per acre. This process of commodification could and probably does have negative effects on our health. With just a simple standard to meet, farmers have no need to be concerned about using pesticides or fertilizers that maybe make the corn not taste quite as good or have a potential negative health affect, because again, all that matters is the bushels per acre. The tedious care, concern, and pride associated with growing the food corn was most likely lost when corn became a commodity.
Corn as a commodity is prized solely for its quantity, or as Pollan puts it, “the quality of sheer quantity.” All other qualities of corn do not matter for corn as a commodity, and it is regarded less as food and more as an industrial material and a form of capital. Corn as a commodity is “not something to feel reverent or even sentimental about.” Corn as food values all qualities, including taste, appearance, cleanliness, etc. The shift to commodity began around the 1850s, before corn was turned into a commodity. Pollan argues the great shift was caused by a grading system instituted by the Chicago Board of Trade, which eliminated any reason for people to care who grew the corn or where it was grown as long as it met certain standards. The corn growers of the US have been growing huge surpluses of corn, creating excess biomass that we are trying to eat up. This can explain health issues such as obesity and the prevalence of food poisoning.
Corn as a commodity means that corn is valued for quantity rather than quality. The farmer no longer has to worry about the buyer's of their crop because their product is now faceless/traceless. The corn containing burlap sacks with the name and address of the farmer no longer exist. Corn from multiple farmers is dumped into grain elevators that then pour it through a large valve into train containers. As Pollan visited this elevator, he noticed how farmers would let corn fall to the ground (sacrilegious to the Corn People of Mexico). It no longer matters if the corn is unsanitary.The overproduction of corn has increased biomass in the environment making a large unnatural imbalance. This shift to commodity has been driven by the government because the deficiency payments to farmers make up half those farmers' pay checks. Also, two companies, ADM and Cargill, manipulate the entire system to which everyone must rely on them. They control every part of the system from selling the seed and fertilizer to slaughtering corn fed animals and making high fructose corn syrup. Because there is so much corn, we have no choice but to use it all. Most products that use corn are unhealthy and will severely alter and decrease our health. Obesity and undernourishment have already become quite prevalent in America.
Before corn became a commodity, it was produced and distributed differently. Farmers were held accountable for their corn up until it was officially and personally bought, so the quality of their product mattered a lot. In order to keep buyers, the quality had to be good because corn was packed in burlap sacks that showed the name of the farm where it was grown. Farmers were also responsible for arranging for distribution of their products. However, with the invention of railroads and grain elevators, and the increasingly prominent role of the government in food and agriculture, corn became a commodity. Instead of being packed into burlap sacks to be transported, corn was piled into railroad carts The government developed a grading system for the quality of corn, and most farmers began growing number 2 corn of different strains but more or less the same quality. Also, farmers began receiving subsidies from the government for their yield even if the corn wouldn’t sell. Thus, growing corn shifted from focus on quality of the corn as a food to yield of the crop as a commodity.
Corn used to be sold as food and not a commodity. What that means is that farmers used to pride themselves on the quality of their crop over the quantity. Corn used to be sold out of burlap sacks directly off the farm. Because the government decided to subsidize corn so that it is cheaper, it change the entire way we consider it. Farmers now sell there corn to big corporations, which combine all the corn they get so it is impossible to know where your corn was actually grown anymore. The whole process now is about how much corn you get and not how good the corn is. Because of this corn is not nearly as good quality as it was before. This decline in the quality is not good for our health. Corn is now made in the all kinds of things that aren’t good for our health like corn syrup. This new view of corn as a commodity is causing many people to become mal-nourished and obese.
Corn made the transition from being a food to a commodity in the 1850's when farmers began selling corn in bulk, without burlap sacks. At this time, a grading system was put in place that completely the transition for corn. this system helped eliminate the need for careful inspection of the corn buyers were buying and effectively let people worry solely about quantity rather than quality when purchasing corn. By doing this, the US government has basically used legislature that encouraged people to grow in large quantities and allowed farmers to go after growing as much as they possibly could. After years of this, nearly all farmers were at point where they saw corn as more of an object that they could make money off of, rather than a necessity they were providing society with. As this new system took off in the 1800's many farmers began looking into how to grow alot of corn at once. Over the last 150 years this problem has only been amplified and the problem of ignoring health risks at the cost of growing more corn has become increasingly more common. Despite having a basic set of regulations that are in place for quality control, it is much easier in the common era to get away with small details because of the enormous quantities of corn they are producing.
Pollan noted in Chapter 2 that Naylor's corn was "no longer something that he could feed himself with". My impression is that this is very true: the type of corn that most commercial farmers grow is inedible in its basic form and is best used as a base for processed ingredients.A farm exists to grow food for people. Whether a farm is actually a farm becomes debatable to me when its primary product seems to not actually be something people are meant to eat, but a commodity for corporations to process. In the case of corn, the policies that encourage companies to make it into processed food have done this. The relationship between humans and corn has ceased to be a relationship in which humans care for plants and animals in order to obtain food for them: it instead has become one in which the crop can no longer do anything for the farmer, and where the farmer is kept alive by money and support from a third party, most often a government or corporation. Personally, I have always been somewhat disturbed when people talk about eating types of food, such as soybeans, beef, and fish, as "consuming" them. To me, this terminology makes these things into commodities to be bought and sold, not something that people have an ecological relationship with. While a country's food system is, of course, part of its economy, in my opinion there is something seriously wrong when the importance of money begins to trump the importance of actual, edible food.
Before around the mid-1850's, corn was sold primarily as a food from farmer to consumer. When farmers started selling their corn in bulk, things changed. Farmers started to become much more concerned with the quantity of corn they were producing, not the quality. When the government started to subsidize corn, that only made matters worse, as farmers hustled to produce bigger and bigger crops as concerns of quality dropped lower and lower. Because the government was subsidizing crops, farmers stopped being held accountable for the quality of their corn (the route from producer to consumer became much longer). With transportation developments, that divide became even wider. One of the reasons eating locally is such a good thing to do relates to the plight (so to speak) of corn: when farmers are held directly responsible for the quality of their produce, as they are selling directly to the people who eat it, you get a much higher quality food.
I have always thought of a commodity in the same way that one could see something as currency: its only real value is its translation to money. You're not buying currency for its qualities but rather because it can later become money. This directly relates to corn as a commodity, because after the mid 19th century, people began to think of corn as a mid-step to cash, rather than corn as food, nutrients, fuel etc etc. Subsidies of corn have created a system where American citizens are basically investing in corn as our country's capital as opposed to gold (the gold standard), stock, or even, crazy idea, education. We've created a system where corn is a better bet than other investments. Ironically, this has caused the erosion of quality of corn. Seeing corn and seeing dollar signs (literally) has led to incredible surpluses of corn that ultimately, never reach the consumer.
Corn as food was initially how corn was viewed and produced in pre-industrial agriculture. Before the 1850s, corn could be traced back to the farm that grew it because every sack of corn kernels had a stamp on it bearing the logo of the farm of origin. Farmers sold their corn directly to consumers or producers, and had to worry about the quality of their product, as buyers would look at the corn in the sacks before making a purchase. Corn as a commodity refers to the system of industrial agriculture that has been in place for over 100 years now. Tasteless starchy corn from all different farms are combined into grain elevators and bought by huge distribution companies such as Cargill (hmm sounds a bit familiar) and subsidized by the government for 28 cents a bushel. The system is intended to increase production and lower prices resulting in a vast supply when compared to demand. This is why we have so much corn entering our diets as the government tries to figure new ways to get people to buy this excess of corn. This system has huge impacts on our health as it enables the industrial monoculture food system that we now know. Corn is feed to all different types of animals and makes its way into everything we eat as high fructose corn syrup (not exactly the healthiest substance in the world). These monocultures of number 2 corn also harm the environment as they require excessive tillage, fertilizer, pesticides, and water to grow.
The image that really brought home the idea of corn as a commodity was when Michael Pollan was talking about all of the corn being on the ground. It definitely feels off reading about food in the mud and underfoot, especially when you think about food shortages in other places in the world. The 1850s really changed how corn was bought and sold, which changed people's attitude. Buying and selling in bulk, rather than in a more person-to-person way separates you from the processes that go into making corn. When corn is no longer seen as a plant grown by farmers and becomes just another large quantity of goods, the connection with and the reverence for food sources can disappear.