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I recently watched King Corn, a documentary film by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, 2 best friends who move to Iowa, the heartland of America, to find out where their food comes from and how it’s made. After having their hair analyzed and discovering that they are made predominantly of corn, they decide to move to the midwest and grow an acre of corn, immersing themselves in the farming and food production lifestyle.

This film is disturbing for many reasons. First off, the government subsidizes big crops like corn and soy, paying farmers something like $30 an acre to produce them. These “foods” (not really foods once they make their ways into our food supply) are then processed and used as filler, sweetner, oil, and feed for animals that are not designed to eat it. Therefore, when corn is used in feedlots on factory farms, the animals are sickened and bloated and must be fed antibiotics to counteract the effects of a food they are not meant to ingest.

Why? Money. And demand. Corn is cheap: cheap to buy, cheap to produce, thousands of acres are subsidized as an incentive, and corn makes a fat cow, and here in America we like fatty, cheap meat and cheap snacks and junk food and fast food. Food is Big Business, and corporations are profiting from our expanding waistlines. Pharmaceutical companies are profiting from all the drugs we’re taking because we have poor diets and lifestyles. Also, processed foods and candy made with corn syrup are cheap and, well, sweet. We have a 150lb/year sugar habit and what better way to get a fix than from a soda? Or a hostess cupcake.

So, our filmmakers interview a lot of folks along the way – Walter Willett, Michael Pollan – and discover at one point that everything in their McDonald’s meal came from corn: the fries were fried in corn oil; the meat was corn-fed; the soda has high fructose corn syrup, as does the bun. Corn is in everything. Take the corn-free challenge and try to eat corn-free for a day. A week. It’s likely that your chicken was fed corn; there’s corn in your cereal, beverages, snacks, vegetable oils, etc.

Why is this bad? Well, for starters, aside from the factory farming/antibiotics aspect, corn fed meat is higher in saturated fat and has fewer beneficial fatty acids than grass fed beef. All of these foods made with corn are PROCESSED with artificial ingredients, and they aren’t whole foods, since the corn has been stripped of its parts and adulterated; chemicals have been added. Corn syrup is one of the most harmful substances we ingest and contributes directly to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. And the more you consume something, especially in an adulterated, processed form, the more likely you are to develop food allergies, causing inflammation and an undesirable immune response. A lot of the corn crop is now genetically modified – and not labeled as such – and we don’t really know yet what the outcome of what consuming GM foods will be.

The other sad part of all of this is that small, organic family farms are being edged out while industrial farming is getting $$ from the government. Big is always better in the eyes of the government, who has turned food processing and production into a profit machine. Just ask Monsanto.

Folks, support local agriculture and buy organic food from farmers’ markets. Participate in community sponsored agriculture and get fresh veggies and in some cases, meat that has been humanely raised and slaughtered, delivered directly to your door. Veggies were probably picked the day before, better than the 2 weeks or more that some produce sits on shelves before you take it home.

Recommended reading: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
Food Politics by Marion Nestle