King Corn

I watched King Corn (free on iTunes) a few months ago & have been meaning to write a blog post on it. I’ve only now gotten re-motivated to write about it now because I’m currently reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma & the two compliment each other beautifully.

The movie, King Corn is a documentary about two college buddies who through some random events decide to get their hair analyzed. The results come back that they have an enormous amount of corn byproduct in their bodies. Confused, because corn isn’t a food product that they typically eat, they decide to move to Iowa, plant an acre of corn rented from a farmer, and follow that acre of corn from production to consumption.

The two film-makers, Ian Chaney and Curt Ellis do a really good job of explaining how corn gets into our food – through corn-fed beef (not only are we what we eat, but we are what we have eaten has eaten), partially hydrogenated corn oil (i.e.: trans fat), food thickeners (guar gum, xantham gum to mention a few that are produced through corn), ethanol, and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) the only factory they weren’t allowed into, to just name a few. They also explore how we as a nation became so corn-centric.

They were able to trace the beginning of corn saturating our diets back to 1971 when Earl Butz, US Secretary of Agriculture instituted the Farm Bill. Through the Farm Bill he encouraged farmers to "get big or get out,". Farmers started over-producing corn. With a surplus of corn available, companies (Cargill & ADM) started creating additional uses for corn.

Food is now cheaper to produce due to the fact that corn is cheaper &  we are using those cheaper corn products to make our food. Because of the Farm Bill, we can see a direct drop in spending on food in the American household, from 25% to 10%. Is there a relationship between cheaper food and the increase of obesity, diabetes and cancer? Is it coincidence that corn is the main ingredient in the two manufactured foods that seem to point directly to these diseases: HFCS & trans fat? Research is still out on that, and I think the answer is much more complex than removing HFCS & trans fat from our diets.

After reading Fast Food Nation (read the book – DO NOT rent the movie) a few years ago, I’ve been fascinated/scared/curious about what exactly we do to our food and why. We trust food manufacturers to do what’s right & have our health in mind when they’re producing & promoting their product. But they don’t. Although Fast Food Nation focuses on the growth of fast food restaurants, there are some common themes running through each of these presentations & analysis of the modern diet: most of the key factors in what got us here today (what we eat and how it’s produced) is economic. Anyone who is interested in their body (what goes into it, how it works, how it looks, how it performs among other things) MUST watch this movie. It really makes you think about the monster we’ve created.