“What`s eating America”, Michael Pollan Summary

“What’seating America”, Michael Pollan

“What’seating America” is a text by Michael Pollan. His essay revolvesaround corn farming and consumption in America. His text begins bygiving the history of corn and then he explained its farming inAmerica. According to Michael, corn has formed a significant part ofthe American life whereby there are approximately 45,000 cornproducts in the American markets (Pollan p4). The text also addressedthe chemical fertilizers’ invention which whose raw material isammonium nitrate. He noted that chemical nitrate have a great impacton agriculture. He also added that if the chemical fertilizer was notdeveloped the population today would not be as small as it is. Thisoffers an insight that the chemical fertilizer is the key eater ofthe Americans. It is evident from the text that the inventor of thechemical fertilizer was FritzHarber who even won NobelPrize but was later killed by his wife.Michael noted in the text that the nitrogen contained in fertilizersis greatly poisonous to the environment(Pollan p18).He added that when a lot of nitrogen is put in the environment itwill kill everything. The Americans’ eater is henceforth nitrogenwhich comes from the chemical fertilizers according to the text’sauthor as the document analyzes.

“What’sEating America” analysis

Accordingto Michael Pollan, corn eating has something to do with affecting theAmericans adversely. It answers the question he addressing on thespecific eater of the Americans. However, it is important to analyzewhy the corns are henceforth eating the Americans. According to theauthor, corn is America’s staple food. It is usually used indiverse ways but not just eating from the cob. There are about 45,000items in the American supermarkets. These products contain 25% ormore corn content in them (Pollan p4). Corn is also consumed by birdsand domestic animals. It is also used in the manufacture of flour,oil, adds color, leavenings and glyceride in processed food. It isalso used in making adhesives and sweetening soft drinks amongothers.

Corn,however, has its benefits and to many parts of the world it hassucceeded but in America it might not do well as other parts of theworld. There is a good as well as bad side of corn. There arebenefits attributable to the consumption of corn as discussed by theauthor. By this, the author was trying to show that corn by itself isnot the real eater but it is the medium by which the eater uses toget the Americans. Michael Pollan gave a perfect explanation thatnature has its way of producing nitrogen itself (Pollan p9). Additionof excess nitrogen inform of fertilizers adds more than enoughnitrogen in the soil. This excess of nitrogen consequently affectsthe rain, air, sea and the soil. He noted that some of this syntheticnitrogen tends to evaporate in the air. This in turn acidifies therain. Acidic rain as we all know is one of the factors whichcontribute to depletion of the ozone layer. This results to globalwarming. The fact that global warming is a real issue in Americaresponsible of causing various health adversities such as skin cancerindicates that this synthetic nitrogen is responsible for eatingAmericans. He also indicated that some of the synthetic tends toseep to the water table which is later tapped for human consumption.

Theother aspect that featured in the article is Fritz Haber who isregarded to be the mastermind of the manufacture of nitrogen (Pollanp13). He was even awarded the Nobel Prize on the ground of improvingthe mankind’s well-being and the agriculture standards. Hisbiography, according to the author, was, however, twisted in an uglymanner due to his links with the First World War’s warfare. He wasa significant part in the world war one. He was active in makingbombs using synthetic nitrate a chemistry that gave the Germans greathopes of emerging victorious. He, therefore, put his knowledge forchemistry in development of ammonia and then chlorine which arepoisonous gases. The author also gave an insight on the way thechemical fertilizers came to gain popularity. He noted that the greatturning point that created a crucial turning point in industrializingfood in America took place in the year 1947 (Pollan p7). This wasafter world war two when Muscle Shoals, Alabama which was a hugemunitions plant switched from explosive’s manufacture to makingchemical fertilizer.

Thetermination of the world war two saw the American government leftwith huge surplus of ammonium nitrate. The ammonium nitrate is alsobelieved to be an excellent nitrogen source for plants. Thistriggered the American to come up with thoughts on how they couldapply this ammonium nitrate in the plantations. The thought thatarose was spraying the America’s forests with the chemical that wasin excess. This would help the timber industry. The agriculturaldepartment’s agronomists developed a better idea which was tospread ammonium nitrate as fertilizer on the farmland. The chemicalfertilizer was, therefore, an attempt of the government to convertthe war machine into peaceful purposes. He ended up his argument byquoting VandanaShiva, Indian farmer activist that people are currently eating theworld war two’s leftovers (Pollanp7). This was an excellent idea since people can trace the source of themenace which is believed to the main eater of the Americans.


Accordingto the above discussion, it is clear that consumption of nitrogen isa real issue to the American community. This has been facilitated byapplication of chemical fertilizers. He also demonstrated how theeffects come to affect the human beings. He indicated its consumptionthrough the water as well as causing global warming. These aspects inreturn affect the lives of the Americans in one way or the other andit can be the cause of their death. It is, hence, a valid argumentthat the main eater of the American is consumption of nitrogen invarious ways including corn.


Pollan,Michael. “What’s Eating America”&nbspSmithsonian Magazine,July 2006. Print.