Saturday, March 7, 2009

A corn problem

Looks like George Will finally got around to reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and provides a nice little book report in this Sunday's column. Essentially, the problem is that:
During World War II, when meat, dairy products and sugar were scarce, heart disease plummeted. It rebounded when rationing ended. "When you adjust for age," Pollan writes, "rates of chronic diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes are considerably higher today than they were in 1900." Type 2 diabetes -- a strange epidemic: one without a virus, bacteria or other microbe -- was called adult-onset diabetes until children began getting it. Now it is a $100 billion-a-year consequence of, among other things, obesity related to a corn-based diet, which is partly because steaks and chops have pushed plants off the plate.

The head of the Agriculture Department is Tom Vilsack, from the corn state of Iowa. Whether this helps or hinders Obama in making real changes to our agricultural policy remains to be seen. But certainly if one is looking for a way to have a huge effect on the environment and at the same time lower health care costs, eliminating policies that make it cheap to grow corn and make America fat would be a good place to start. Obama has said the right things, but we'll see what actually gets through Congress.