Wake up and Smell the Corn!

click image to visit kingcorn.net

We just watched the documentary, King Corn, last night, and it was another piece of the “food education” movement that we believe is essential for everyone to watch.  The film makers, 2 new college grads, learned that their bodies contained corn (via analysis of  strands of their hair), which they found was related to what they were eating and drinking.  So, they went to Iowa to plant an acre of corn and see where their crop eventually would end up. 

We’ve read books and videos (also see our blog library) by Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and many TED talks by them as well as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution To us, the message is clear and not entirely new. We Americans (and others around the world) are mindlessly eating ourselves to death, and into “debt.” Choosing what to eat for our next meal goes way beyond issues of personal taste, cost, or personal health (obesity & diabetes).  This choice affects our economy, cost of health care (or sick care), the death of the family farm, industrialization of our plants and meats, exploitation of immigrant labor, degradation of farmland, government policies (e.g., subsidization of corn), and global warming, to name a few.

Here were some startling statistics mentioned in the documentary:

  • In Brooklyn alone, 139 million gallons of soda were consumed per year, sweetened by 20,000 acres of corn
  • 70% of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) produced goes into sodas
  • One soda per day corresponds to doubling risk of developing Type II diabetes
  • Mass produced Genetically modified corn (e.g., made to resist pesticides) is not edible as fresh corn.  They are grown to be processed.
  • Corn feed literally will kill the cow.  Cows evolved to digest grass.  Antibiotics keep them alive, and the corn diet allows the cow to grow to mature size faster, but they are not lean, mostly fat. (We are what we eat– we’re getting fat on fat cows)

People can debate about the merits and/or harm of HFCS, but the bottom line is that the abundance of corn allows the mass production of cheap corn sweetener, making sodas extremely cheap and abundant (As far back as I can recall, 2 liter sodas have been $.99.  It’s inflation proof!)  The overproduction of corn (and soy) gives industrial farms cheap feed to mass ‘produce’ cattle, pigs,chickens etc., thereby making dollar hamburgers ubiquitous (hey that’s inflation proof, too!).   The quality of the meats is degraded, and the industrialization of these farm animals is polluting the air and the earth.

My college students, in a show of hands, nearly all said they ate meat on a daily basis, and more than half had meat at every meal.  They are walking, talking, ipod listening, stalks of corn…

What’s the next step?  We can spread the word by teaching (and showing) our children about the truth behind our foods.  We need to inform our friends and family about these books and films.  On a personal level, here was the challenge I set forth to my students, and now to you (although I realize if you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir):

  1. Start a food journal, documenting everything (food and drink that is) going into your body for say, a week.
  2. If possible, list the ingredients that went into that food or drink (you can actually find ingredients and nutritional content on every fast food company’s web page).  You may need to take a week off of work, as this will be time consuming.
  3. Highlight each ingredient you don’t understand (get a backup highlighter for this, as you’ll run out of ink quickly)
  4. Reflect on this list, and notice what it in your diet, where the ingredients may have come from, and whether you ARE what you eat.

My departing thought:  If we know that cows did not evolve to digest corn, did humans evolve to eat Twinkies?

We Say NO to Status Quo.

Live Small.  Live Green.  Give Large.  Take Little.

Take Notice.  Take Action.


13 thoughts on “Wake up and Smell the Corn!

  1. I haven’t seen the documentary but I’ve always wondered about pears because it seems so many fruits are stored in pear juice. Makes me wonder what is so special about pear juice. As for the knowing where your food comes from, I think that is why I want to try and participate in CSA

    1. Great point! There are industrialized ingredients used ubiquitously with innocent sounding names, like vegetable oil, or “natural ___ flavor”.. what the heck is that? I love that we make most of our meals from scratch, and fruits/veggies are a staple in our diet..

  2. we eat grass-fed meat, and organic veggies. it makes me sick when i am in the grocery store and see all the carts just FULL of processed foods. yikes.

    1. Totally understand… my college was so proud to get an “A & W” fast food restaurant on campus… every time I see the banners I feel sad…

  3. Funniest thing. My youngest daughter had a serious food allergy to corn. When I started trying to cut it out of our diet, it proved to be the hardest job I’ve ever had. Once I started buying organic (non-GMO) and cooking at home (making even our bread and staples) her allergies completely stopped. She can have corn on the cob occasionally now without allergy problems. I am utterly convinced her allergy was brought about by the overabundance of corn in the food she was eating.

    By the way, an excellent follow-up to King Corn has been made. It’s called Big River and it describes the downriver effects of the monocropping of corn in our country.

  4. Great challenge, J! I’d love to know how your students are doing with it.
    I’m proud of this: when we got together with family members and dogs this weekend, one cousin asked if we had ever given our dog a 2-liter plastic bottle to play with. For a minute, I couldn’t quite think of what that was, and then it hit me: a soda bottle! I’m happy to say the pup has never and will never have that kind of chew toy.

    1. Hey Lisa,
      Thanks for the comment. Perhaps another unspoken topic is the number of plastic bottles out there that never see the recycling bin. Come to think of it, it’s difficult to even find sodas in glass bottles anymore, and glass is one of the most easily recycled materials we use. We are sometimes even reluctant to buy yogurt, as they almost always come in #5 plastic containers, and not all recycling centers accept anything other than #1 or #2 plastics…

  5. I was just in China where it seems every day another food issue is in the paper. Recycled fry oil out of the garbage? Indistinguishable fake eggs? (which floors me since a real egg really seems rather easy to produce) Excessive sprays? Melamine? It almost makes the US look like heaven. Almost. Then the closer look that these books and documentaries provide is horrifying. But the source of the problem on both sides of the ocean is money. Farmers grow corn because it is subsidized and the pay for a farming life stinks (often even with that subsidy). Shareholders at the seed companies need big constant growth. If someone makes a million dollars this year well it better be double that next. If it was a feed the world issue, the corn produced would be edible as it is. And not nearly all of it is for corny food processing, the bulk is for ethanol, another cash cow disguised as an environmentally responsible thing (which it is not at all!). I am not at all a religious fellow, but those lists of flaws and sins that appear in so many of the world religions and mythologies have become the themes of broad scale real-life morality plays. Pride, Gluttony and Avarice are ruining the quality of life for so many right before our eyes and the worst is likely yet to come. I’m highly fortunate and grateful that my home is in a progressive agrarian area that still values quality food if not always organic at least locally and responsibly produced. But its just a drop in a bucket against a tide of absurdity.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for dropping by and adding your thoughts! I’ve always been puzzled by the (lack of) business ethics in China, based on what you mentioned and the high profile stories we’ve seen in the past couple of years. But as a social scientist, I’m thinking that this type of decision making is universal, even though the harmful effects of those decision may be different. E.g., Enron execs decisions cost the employees their life savings, while a Chinese company’s decisions could make someone sick or kill them. It’s all about getting ahead, the bottom line, etc. Just watched a documentary (we’re documentary crazy lately with our trial Netflix account) about Walmart, and while we’ve been boycotting Walmart for a few years now, it was quite enlightening to see the amount of egregious abuses and arrogance the execs showed towards their own employees, and the towns they affected.
      Cheers, and hope to meet you in BKK one day!

  6. Hi Ladyexpat,
    Definitely agree about seeing more obesity problems beyond the U.S. My assumption is that the more modern/industrial a country’s economy becomes, follows more families with more comfortable lifestyles and access to processed foods.
    While I would love to romaticize about places like Thailand with their abundance of fresh food, they too have increasing numbers of fast and processed foods, and produce grown with pesticides.

  7. Excellent post.

    I don’t think it’s only Americans that have serious issues with food.

    I’m amazed at how many overweight Korean children I see everyday. There has been an obesity explosion here too during the last nine years.

    I am definitely going to watch this documentary. Thanks for sharing.

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