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20 Sep

King Corn Film Review

kingcornIf you have your DNA analyzed (say, by submitting a strand of hair or a scrape of skin cells), you might be surprised to learn that you are almost entirely made of…corn.

Or so we learn from a riot of an independent film just hitting the festival circuit. If you liked Supersize Me, King Corn is a film you don’t want to miss. I had the opportunity to review an advance copy earlier this year and I was thoroughly impressed by the quality and the information. The story is pretty humorous, to boot.

The film begins with two young men deciding to return to their roots after graduating from college. Their mutual roots, as it turns out, lead to the very same hometown in the heart of American corn country. After a road trip greased with some of the most disgusting junk food you’ll ever witness and some lab time with a scientist (in which their genetic material is determined to be essentially corn-based), the boys embark on the family tradition of corn farming. After all, it’s completely subsidized by your government. Of course, the corn they reap adds to the surplus yield and will likely go to waste, but fortunately, they’ll still earn a living thanks to your tax dollars and outdated agricultural policy.

King Corn is certainly entertaining, if sickeningly so. To wit: the boys are prepared to toil in the dirt, but their nostalgic (perhaps romantic) farm vision is dashed when they are enlightened by the old timers. As it turns out, corn farming is completely automated, from planting to harvest. So after machines take care of the sowing the boys are left to sit around and literally do nothing for months. Best of all (at this point, your blood may be boiling as mine was), since farmers are economically incentivized by the government to produce more, and more, and ever more corn, there’s always a reliable surplus come fall.

This is de facto welfare.

corn 2

The economic inefficiency and agriculture department’s bureaucratic obsolesence here might be – might be – a forgivable quirk of the American system that simply needs time for some natural correction. But the ramifications of this policy are too serious to ignore. As the filmmakers begin investigating the extent of corn’s reach in our food supply, the picture becomes increasingly appalling. A burger, for example, is not merely sauced with a corn oil- and corn syrup-based condiment or two (ketchup, special sauce). The bread is likely to have corn products in it. The meat itself comes from cattle raised on corn.

What does all this mean for public health?

I recommend you see the film in order to draw your own conclusions (and I’m leaving out some of the most disconcerting details). But a few particularly damning points continue to stay with me. First, given our type 2 diabetes epidemic and the massive scale of obesity we’re dealing with, the federal government’s outdated agricultural policy and utter subservience to Big Agra’s interests are outrageous. Not only is the entire racket wasteful and antithetical to a free market system, but given our knowledge about the nutritional vacuum that is the corn kernel, it’s completely irresponsible. Second, you’ll learn some things you might wish you hadn’t. For example, though farm-raised cattle is almost exclusively corn-fed, corn is literally toxic to cows. In fact, if you feed a cow corn, it will die within a year. Fortunately, the rapid production cycle of the factory farm system slaughters the cow before this happens (although “downers” still make it into the food supply). This is the meat you eat. Another gem: this corn we grow isn’t the sweet stuff of backyard barbecues (or in my case, Maine lobster bakes). It tastes terrible and is practically inedible – that is, until it’s processed into corn syrup or corn oil in order to be palatable.

This is the system we subsidize with our tax dollars. And that’s really only the beginning of the story. “King Corn” is an apt title. Don’t miss it.

Further Reading:

How to Get Diabetes: Follow the Diabetes Food Pyramid

My Carb Pyramid

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Can’t wait to see it. I don’t get the thing about our DNA being made of corn. How does that biology work? Is that like saying since our DNA is freakishly similar to a fruit fly, that we are primarily made up of fruit fly, or is it the corn we eat that somehow contributes to/is converted to the actual acids of DNA, or is it something else entirely?

    McFly wrote on September 20th, 2007
    • Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the key to corn in our DNA is where the molecules come from. Things that DNA comes from (protein) come from what we eat, which, as per the movie, is mostly corn these days.

      William wrote on October 16th, 2009
  2. I’ve Been Keeping My Eye Out For This One. This Sounds So Interesting, I WILL See It, In Fact, I’ve Already Let Everyone Know About It So They’ll See It, Too. I’ve Been Spreading The Word!
    I Just Know This Will Be A Dynamite Movie!!!

    Donna wrote on September 20th, 2007
  3. Thanks for this news, Mark. Can’t wait to see. This blog is my new favorite blog and I wish I had found it a LONG time ago!!!! :)

    cakegrrl wrote on September 20th, 2007
  4. I can’t wait to see this movie! I first found out about corn’s insidious presence in much of the American diet when I read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It’s amazing how much of the food, beverages and products we buy contain corn derivatives. It’s everywhere!

    Mike Drew wrote on September 20th, 2007
  5. It’s going to make some people mad, but I’m going to enjoy it. Had this discussion yesterday. People who can’t handle gluten, sometimes eat a lot of corn….because you can’t go a whole day without grain, that would be weird.

    Crystal wrote on September 20th, 2007
  6. I’ll check this our for sure. It sounds strikingly similar to Michael Pollan’s description of the industrial agriculture setup in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. One of the chapters contains some equally appalling statistics. The government subsidy of corn is why high-fructose corn syrup is so prevalent and why so many people are getting fat and fatter.

    McFly, Michael Pollan goes into this. Corn has a unique chemical structure (as does everything else you eat) that leaves a tell-tale carbon imprint on your DNA/chemical composition. They can break that down to look at those carbon imprints and see where the majority of the carbon in your body has come from. Because so many Americans eat animals fattened on corn, corn chips, corn muffins, corn bread, corn, corn oil, corn sweetener, and corn everything else, the body literally has an overwhelming carbon imprint from corn.

    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

    Scott Kustes wrote on September 20th, 2007
  7. And let’s not forget that only half your grains need to be whole. Which means your other half can come from refined grains and you’ll still be in line with the government’s nutrition recommendations!

    Sara wrote on September 20th, 2007
  8. <p>McFly,</p>
    <p>Cells in our body are constantly dividing and creating cells. The raw material for those cells at the most basic level would be the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen etc we get from food we eat. Turns out that corn “fixes” an isotope of carbon (C13) at a different rate from the rest of “average” nature. So when we use mass spectrometry to analyze DNA and we find a corresponding difference in C13 in the DNA, we can imply that that carbon came from corn. If the carbon from corn is now identified as the source of carbon in molecules, we can also assume the other elements are likely from corn as well.</p>

    Mark Sisson wrote on September 20th, 2007
  9. Mark and Scott, that’s wild stuff! Thanks for the info. Can we do this with other food products, or is corn pretty much the only food that fixes C13 at a different rate?

    I’d love to know how much of my body is made of tacos. (corn+beef+lettuce+cheddar+tomato+awesome secret salsa)

    McFly wrote on September 20th, 2007
  10. Umm, something is not right, tho I don’t know if it comes from the author or the movie.

    “If you feed a cow corn, it will die within a year. Fortunately, the rapid production cycle of the factory farm system slaughters the cow before this happens.”

    I grew up on a dairy farm, where corn was part of the cows daily diets. None of them were dead within a year. This went on for years without a hitch.

    Not that I’m saying the rest of his post is incorrect, but that sentence sounds erroneous/exaggerated.

    Jesse wrote on August 30th, 2010
    • Hmm.. Mark, did this line about the dying cows come from the film? I wonder where they would have found their source for this information..

      Brian Kozmo wrote on December 6th, 2010

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