When I began my rereading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I began finding errors that didn’t seem significant enough to make the subject of a whole post. I still want to correct these points for the record, so I’ve decided to introduce a weekly series of posts about things that aren’t very important.
In addition to things that I can confirm to be erroneous, I’ll include points that seem questionable but for which I was unable to find a source. If you know more than I do about something, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I’ll also mention things that I think could be expressed more clearly. I’ll generally avoid writing about grammatical errors.
With all that said, here’s this week’s list:
- In communicating the pervasiveness of corn in the food supply, Pollan writes, “For modified or unmodified starch, for glucose syrup and maltodextrin, for crystalline fructose and ascorbic acid, for lecithin and dextrose, lactic acid and lysine, for maltose and HFCS, for MSG and polyols, for the caramel color and xanthan gum, read: corn” (18). Lecithin is very often derived from soy, rather than corn. I would even guess that most lecithin comes from soy; food-processing giant ADM states that their lecithin is from soy.
- Pollan writes, “(Ninety-seven percent of what a corn plant is comes from the air, three percent from the ground.)” (22). I couldn’t find any verification for this point, but I think this must exclude the corn plant’s water mass.
- Pollan writes,
- Pollan asks, “How do you enlist so unlikely a creature–for the cow is an herbivore by nature–to help dispose of America’s corn surplus?” (66). I’m probably just being dense here and somehow misreading it, but isn’t an herbivore exactly the sort of animal you would expect to dispose of a surplus of some plant matter? It seems to me that cows are an unlikely choice to dispose of the corn surplus because they naturally eat grass, not because they are herbivores. I’d love for somebody to explain why this makes sense, though.
The trick [C-4 carbon fixation] doesn’t yet, however, explain how a scientist could tell that a given carbon atom in a human bone owes its presence there to a photosynthetic event that occurred in the leaf of one kind of plant and not another–in corn, say, instead of lettuce or wheat. The scientist can do this because all carbon is not created equal. (22)
He then goes on to explain that C-4 plants take in relatively more carbon 13 than C-3 plants do, and thus, “The higher the ratio of carbon 13 to carbon 12 in a person’s flesh, the more corn has been in his diet–or in the diet of the animals he or she ate” (22). This is very different from determining that a given atom comes from a particular kind of plant (as he suggests in the first quote). Scientists can determine the proportion of a person’s diet coming from corn, but this only allows them to estimate the probability that a particular atom came from corn.
Have something to add? Did I get something wrong? Please post it in the comments.