Monthly Archives: July 2010

Corn

I’d like to begin this post by saying that Netflix is one of the best things ever. Now that that’s out of the way, I can talk about corn.

Although documentaries such as Food, Inc and King Corn often have an obvious political slant, they’ve opened my eyes to the driving forces behind the dramatic changes to our nation’s food supply. In the past half century, we’ve shifted from local, independent producers to a food system that has been consolidated into just a handful of large companies. What most Americans eat today is produced by commercial meat processors and industrial farmers.

It’s fascinating to explore the connection between government subsidies and the ubiquity of processed and fast foods. Our nation produces such an abundance of cheap corn that it now goes into almost everything we eat. For example, a cow’s body is not meant to digest corn. Regardless, we feed it to our cattle anyway due to the low cost as well as how quickly corn fattens the cows up to market weight. Grass-fed cattle take longer to raise and, therefore, are less profitable.

Without a doubt, low food prices help Americans live a better life. However, we need to take a critical look at the current situation. Is this system sustainable? It’s an important debate not only in terms of natural resources but also in terms of human health. Should it really be cheaper to eat a cheeseburger at McDonald’s than to eat fresh fruits and vegetables?

One final note: what I find ironic to this whole issue is that the corn grown by American farmers is barely edible. It has been genetically engineered to be full of starch instead of protein — optimal for processing, not for eating. We love cheap food but often don’t realize that it can come at a great cost to our health and to the environment.

House of Cards

More and more I’ve been intrigued by the powerful people in the US (and global) financial sector who have control over the world’s assets.

The book House of Cards tells the story of the collapse of Bear Stearns, the New York investment banking and brokerage firm that went under in 2008 due to the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.

House of Cards describes in detail the incredibly headstrong personalities of Bear’s senior leaders. The author, William Cohen, recounts the numerous feuds between one-time CEO Ace Greenberg and his successor Jimmy Cayne. I would find myself thinking, “Do these guys really work for the same firm?”

I guess that’s what it takes to survive in an industry where indecision and mistakes can cause anyone to lose a fortune in seconds. Despite being a major player on Wall Street for over 80 years, Bear Stearns did not make it.