Things I learned:
1. Corn is in everything. Ingredients that contain corn derivatives: citric acid, corn fructose, corn syrup, dextrose, lactic acid, MSG, sorbitol and xanthan gum – just to list a few. Many of these derivatives over time on a mass scale cause obesity. Food scientists spend a lot of time trying to add more calories into smaller and smaller amounts of food.
2. “Compared to us, Mexicans today consume a far more varied carbon diet: the animals they eat still eat grass (until recently, Mexicans regarded feeding corn to livestock as a sacrilege); much of their protein comes from legumes; and they still sweeten their beverages with cane sugar.”
3. We actually have so much corn that we don’t know what to do with it. So we have to create new markets just to keep up with the massive supply, which is caused by low prices, high yield and government regulations that make it less desirable to grow other crops like broccoli.
4. Because we have so much corn, we feed it to animals who can’t process it. To combat this issue, we feed them medicine.
5. We also give animals antibiotics, because we crowd them into spaces not meant for living. We eventually consume these animals, thereby potentially compromising our immune systems.
6. We use fossil fuels to create nitrogen fertilizers for corn. We use 10+ calories of petroleum to create 1 calorie of food.
7. “The ninety-nine cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost–to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves.”
8. There’s such a thing as an industrial organic farm. You’re dealing with farming on a large scale, so there’s give and take (and more use of fossil fuels). The result is still better than conventional farming given the amount of pesticides you’re removing from the food stream.
10. It’s easy to write about farming on a smaller scale and delivering food only to local markets, but what happens if you try to apply this to NYC or any other densely populated urban centers that aren’t surrounded by lush fields?
As I flip through an old childhood sketchbook, I see drawings of my old teddy bear, my nightstand and occasionally something that resembles a cartoon monster. I was always an imaginative child, spending hours cooped up into my room writing short stories, creating pretend alphabets and painting. I loved art, because I liked to invent new things.
During high school summer breaks, I took oil painting classes from Professor Niu, a highly-regarded painting teacher in the Chinese community. The classes were hours long and could be physically tiring, but the hardest thing about painting ended up being paying attention to my eyes.
When I tried to paint a vase, my brain told me it was white while my eyes were telling me it was actually blue (from reflections created by nearby objects). I would struggle at first to paint it blue, because I knew it was white. But when I did paint it blue, it looked right and suddenly the painting would come together.
These classes ended up teaching me not just about how to make colors and form come together on a canvas, but also how to be a little braver. Art teaches courage, an attribute that comes from facing fears and overcoming them.
It’s easy to make something the way other people tell me it should be. It’s much harder to block out existing thoughts to create new ones. Art is important for this reason. It tries new things. It experiments. It plays. It imagines. It questions. It ultimately brings people out of their comfort zones; that’s something we always need a little bit more of.