Light Reading: Farm Subsidies, Obesity, And Calorie Restriction

We’ve uncovered some longer pieces around the web that deserve your attention. As a bonus, we’ve related the material to your life in Chicago!



First up, Michael Pollan squeezes out another polemic about the tensions between Big Food and public health for the NYTimes Magazine. This one is on the myriad unintended consequences of the U.S. farm subsidization program, with a focus on the impact of extremely low-priced calories on lower-income obesity levels. When government money makes corn cheap and plentiful to a degree entirely out of sync with market pressures, people without a lot of resources to expend on food end up consuming a lot of high fructose corn syrup, and get fat. Pollan argues that we may want to pay attention to the farm bill this year, and maybe get some subsidies for healthy things, like fresh produce.

All this is true enough, but if you’re wondering what Pollan thinks about how corn-based ethanol affects subsidized corn prices, so are we. Pollan mentions how a price spike owing to ethanol sparked a tortilla crisis in Mexico, but does not attempt to justify what seems like a cognitive dissonance between subsidized low corn prices and ethanol-fueled high corn prices. We will be thinking about this paradox, but in the meantime, some figures:

• Illinois received $1.5 billion in U.S.D.A subsidies in 2005 (NYTimes)

• Illinois produces 1.5 billion bushels of corn a year, 20% of which is used for ethanol production (Illinois Corn)

• Illinois ethanol production alone has increased the price of corn by 25 cents a bushel (Illinois Corn)

• Illinois ranks 23rd in adult obesity nationwide (23.2%) and 7th in low-income children (14%) (Healthy Americans)

• Illinois spent $272 per person on medical-costs related to obesity in 2003, totaling almost $3.4 billion (Healthy Americans)

Second, Kate Taylor delivers a two-parter on Calorie Restriction in Slate, examining the contention that the extreme diet is an eating disorder not unlike anorexia. The diet, which has been shown to slow the aging process in mice, is considered controversial because of just how little its participants end up eating; some CRONies, as they call themselves, suffer from side effects like decreased libido and osteoporosis. Taylor argues that the psychological mechanisms immanent to anorexia - control issues, obsessiveness, euphoria from starvation - are also present in people who practice extreme forms of CR, and that the supposed health benefits of the diet ought not serve to mask what is, in essence, a type of eating disorder. Incidentally, The Awakening Center in Wrigleyville is one of Chicago’s only clinics devoted to the treatment of eating disorders of all stripes.

And America’s vexed relationship with food gets ever more vexing.

You Are What You Grow [NYTimes]

ICGA Annual Report [Illinois Corn]

Ethanol Fact Sheet [Illinois Corn]

Obesity Report in Illinois [Healthy Americans]
Eating for Fewer Than One, Pt. 1 [Slate]

Eating for Fewer Than One, Pt. 2 [Slate]

Calorie Restriction Society [Official Site]

The Awakening Center [Official Site]


[Photo: UMich class project]

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Light Reading: Farm Subsidies, Obesity, And Calorie Restriction