If 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surplus yield and will likely go to waste, but fortunately, they’ll still earn a living thanks to your tax dollars and outdated agricultural policy.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.
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.
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