For a while, the farmers complained that the new scientific seeds should be put in contests all by themselves. But after a few harvests, no one cared how the seeds had been produced, and no one cared that they were barren. No one had ever seen such beautiful corn. No one had ever seen such extraordinary yields. No one had ever made so much money.
Soon U.S. universities were constructing their own agriculture and livestock laboratories, and institutes of higher learning joined the new molecular science of food. In the 1920s, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin named Harry Steenbock exposed milk to ultraviolet radiation, which increased its level of vitamin D. Steenbock had figured out how to use radiation to alter the chemicals in food, and with $300 of his own money he patented his method—at which point one of the world's largest companies, Quaker Oats, offered Steenbock $1 million for the rights to use his technology to fortify its breakfast cereals.
Steenbock had created food's first killer app.
Excerpted from Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food, by Frederick Kaufman. With permission from the publisher, Wiley. Copyright © Frederick Kaufman, 2012.