Corn is King

king corn 2Imagine that Americans who eat a typical, commercially processed American diet are probably eating some form of corn in every meal. The documentary film King Corn (available at Netflix) shows two friends who decide to grow an acre of corn in Iowa to learn what is involved to grow it and where it winds up after it is harvested. The real story about corn is pretty shocking. The effects are so wide they spread out like a huge web and we all are somehow caught in it even if we never eat commercially produced food.

Since farmers grow so much corn today, the actual price for corn is so low that without government subsidies most farmers would be losing money. Corn has allowed the cheap, processed food industry to flourish due to the low cost of corn. It can be found in most processed foods in some form or another. Corn is in breakfast cereal, fruit juice, salad dressings, processed meats, soups, even beer and so many other things it is mind boggling. Just walk down the aisle in any commercial market and start reading labels.

DId you know that before the 1970’s high fructose corn syrup did not exist? it was too expensive to produce. But once the price of corn came down, with a lot of help from the government, so did the cost of producing this particular type of sugar. It was an answer to a prayer for the food and beverage industry (or did they create the circumstances  for their prayers to be answered with lobbyists and inside help), since they needed a cheap substitute for sugar. And they sure got it. The problem is Americans now live on a diet of corn, unbeknownst to most of them, but it comes to them in the form of sugar or in meat with a higher saturated fat content. hormones and antibiotics.

The industrialization of the growing of corn has dramatically changed the communities where corn is grown. Small farmers cannot survive so one family after another has packed it up and moved on even where their families had been growing corn for decades. Can you believe that most of the corn that is grown in America is inedible in its natural state?  It is basically a raw material for another product so it must be processed or fed to animals. And the worst part is that the products it is in have little or no nutritional value, or don’t need this except to make it sweet, just like adding sugar. This means that much of America’s farmland is producing a product that serves little value as far as food goes, except to provide cheap meat and cheap sugar laden drinks. The use of large equipment, genetically modified corn, and chemicals have produced increased yields, and a crop that can be planted and harvested almost single handedly, but at a huge cost in many ways. The need for workers on a farm is almost non-existent and this has also contributed to farmers having to sell their farms and a transformation in rural farming areas.

But where is the corn going and what effect does it have on the people eating it? Most livestock in America is fed corn not grass, which is what they naturally eat. The corn that is fed to cows makes them sick so the animals are given antibiotics so that they can survive. This feed also fattens them up much faster, which on the one hand is a good thing because the cows would die prematurely from their corn diets. Grazed cattle need a few years to reach the size that feed lot raised cattle reach in four to five months. The amount of saturated fat is many times higher in feed lot beef compared to grass fed since they basically eat empty calories from starch (corn used to have a higher protein content than what is commonly grown today) and do not move much, so their muscle resembles fat. When you eat feed lot beef you are eating much more saturated fat than you would consume in the same amount of grass fed, free range beef. This is part of the higher cost from eating cheap meat, obesity and a host of health problems.

“If you take a McDonald’s meal, you don’t realize it when you eat it, but you’re eating corn.  Beef has been corn-fed.  Soda is corn.  Even the French fries.  Half the calories in the French fries come from the fat they’re fried in, which is liable to be either corn oil or soy oil.  So when you’re at McDonald’s, you’re eating Iowa food.  Everything on your plate is corn.”  — Michael Pollan, UC Berkeley, in King Corn

So here is this web that has been woven since the 70’s…

The public pays the subsidies that provide the farmers their profits. The food and meat industry have a cheap material that allows them to keep their prices down. The public in turn gets cheap food and lots of cheap soda but then they become obese and have major health issues such as diabetes and heart problems, which the medical system must pay for, but we eventually pay these costs.

This does not sound like a such a good deal to me since we are paying the costs at the beginning and the end, while the food and medical industry are reaping profits at our expense.

Is there a solution?

Imagine there were no corn subsidies, then more profitable crops would be grown like real corn that people can eat as well as other vegetables. The real farmland of America could return, not an industrialized, dehumanized system. The price of corn would rise, which would make all those processed foods and drinks that are loaded with corn syrup less popular, since they would be more expensive. People would then go back to eating real food, that is without all those sweeteners and additional ingredients that are unnecessary. I mean what is corn syrup doing in salad dressing or tomato sauce anyway?

With the rise in the price of corn industrialized, feed lot raised animals would also become more expensive and perhaps cows could go back to grazing and eating grass, and have a more humane existence. The price of meat would also rise, which would be a good thing since eating so much meat, and poor quality meat at that, is also contributing to health problems. Perhaps many people would eliminate meat altogether, and others would limit how much they eat, which is also not a bad idea since the meat industry is by far the largest contributor to green house gasses.

It is amazing to think about it but this one shift could be a dramatic part of the solution to the health care crises that we face in America today, as well as global warming. Hard to believe that corn plays such a huge role in so many issues that are critical but it is the truth. We all have much more power than we realize to create change. The web site for the film King Corn has a Take Action link where you will find things that you can do to make a difference. See what you can do to help in shifting this vicious cycle, and let us know.

The time has come to adopt Smart Lifeways, it will benefit all of us.