King Corn

Call me a nerd (it wouldn’t be the first time), but one of the things I really like to do is watch documentaries.  There are so many good ones out there, on all different topics, from prisons, to life in Alaska, to how factories work, and I find them really interesting.  Not only do I like to know what I’m talking about when I talk to other people, but I also just find it fun to learn about the world around me.

Obviously, some of my favorite documentaries to watch center around food, the food industry (farming, manufacturing, distribution, the use of chemicals, etc.), and health, and the other day I heard about a new one called King Corn, which was all about corn farming. 

King Corn follows two guys from Boston who move to rural Iowa to farm corn, and it’s really interesting to see how it goes from seed to plate.  I knew corn was in pretty much every single thing we eat, but I never really knew the specifics behind it.  Did you know you can’t even eat corn straight from the field anymore?  (Or wouldn’t want to, anyway.) 

Farming has evolved in so many tremendous ways over the last century, which is great in some respects; we can now produce food for way more people in way less time and with way less resources.  But at the same time – did you read the part where I said that the corn is inedible right out of the field?  It has to be processed into compounds that we can eat, and then it’s added to pretty much every packaged food in the grocery store – often as sugar.  And it’s fed to most of the animals that you buy in the grocery store too.  So you may not think you eat a lot of corn… but you probably do.

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And maybe you’re thinking: so what’s the problem?  Corn is a vegetable; it’s good for you. 

Well, that’s debatable. 

Most corn produced today is genetically modified and pumped with all kinds of chemicals that allow it to grow as fast and as easily as it does.  It’s cheap to process corn into sugar (like high fructose corn syrup) and other additives, and its cheap to make soda and snack cakes and other junk food that contains these corn by-products.  In turn, that means it’s cheap to buy these products, so people do.  Take your typical meal from McDonald’s: hamburger meat is highly-processed meat from corn fed cows, French fries are often fried in corn oil, and soda’s main ingredient is high fructose corn syrup.

The problem is, like one expert discussed, we’ve come a long way with so called “advancements” in the food industry, but when we genetically modify crops to maximize efficiency, we eliminate the nutrition.  High fructose corn syrup has virtually no nutritional value, and yet it’s in practically every [processed] food we eat.  (Check out this article if you want to see all the things corn is found in.  I bet some of them will surprise you.)  With that in mind, is it really any wonder why the rate of diabetes is so high in this country?

But the problem is not just with the food; there is a much larger issue as well.  Government subsidies fund the surplus production of cheap corn by paying farmers to produce it.  So basically, that means we subsidize Happy Meals, but we don’t subsidize healthy ones.

Back in the day, people paid twice as much for their food as we do now. So it’s easy to see why they dedicated their lives to making food production easier and cheaper.  But it used to be a family operation, and now it’s a commercial one. We spend less income on food than any generation in history, and fewer people are needed to produce it, but we’re also the fattest, sickest, unhealthiest generation yet.  Sure, we live in the age of plenty, but we might live in a time where abundance actually brings too much.

So what’s the point of all this? 

I’m not saying don’t eat corn. 

Let’s face it, almost all of the food we eat now has been genetically modified from it’s original form to make it cheaper, easier to produce, and better tasting, and most vegetables are sprayed with chemicals.  We need to be able to feed a lot of people, and we can’t all afford to eat local, organic foods 100% of the time.

But what I am saying is: do your research.  Know what you’re putting into your body, where your food comes from, and the impact it has on your own well-being and the world around you. 

Read the labels, and if you don’t know what the ingredients are… put it back. 

When you know better, you do better!

Questions:

What are your thoughts on all of this?

What are some of your favorite documentaries (food or otherwise)?

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4 Comments on “King Corn”

  1. This relates to the book omnivore’s dilemma by Michael pollen, part of the curriculum I’m trying to teach my students right now. It’s so important to know what’s in our food. I many people don’t even give it a second thought, and act like I’m the weird one cause I go to a farm to buy grass fed meat.

  2. King Corn is a good one, but my favorites are still Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives. I think I have read just about every food documentary book out there, so I am proudly a food obsessed gal as well! : )


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