Are We Really Made of Corn?

by updated 2010/12/18

I finally got around to renting the movie “King Corn“. I guess I had not seen it yet because I figured I knew a lot about this issue already and like most of us, there are so many things competing for my time. Whoops! I now know what I was missing. This documentary is a must see for many reasons other that the main premise of the movie, that the epidemic of obesity is a direct result of our addiction to everything corn.

There are many classic scenes in this film, starting with the Iowa farmer reading the letter from Curt and Ian, (above), asking him if they could borrow an acre of his farm to grow some corn. This same farmer, at the end of the film, is facing another unexpected dilemma, but like many of the people in the movie, handles himself with perfect Midwestern aplomb. As is so often the case, especially when it comes to individuals, reality is way more interesting than actors. So watch this film not only for the true story of corn, but for a good dose of entertainment also.

Even though many of us know a lot of the facts portrayed in the film, it is still interesting to see them laid out so plainly and in perfect sequence. A few things that some might not know… Recent years have had record harvests of corn from U.S. farmland and only a small percentage goes to fuel rather than food. This year, the flooding has delayed the corn planting and may contribute to a decreased harvest. After watching this movie, I think I have changed my thinking to believe we should use more for fuel and less for food. However, I think the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” would benefit from an overall reduction in acres planted in corn, no matter what the corn is used for.

Corn is the number one reason the U.S. has historically had such low food prices. The current yield per acre has been pushed to 10,000 pounds, an almost unbelievable amount when you see it in a pile. Almost all of the corn grown today can not be eaten by humans until it has been processed and put into processed foods.

The main variety of corn planted today (Liberty), bears almost no resemblance to the traditional corn we have grown to eat.  Liberty Link hybrid corn is genetically modified to be immune to glufosinate-ammonium, (the active ingredient in the product aptly named Liberty Herbicide). I had heard of “Roundup Ready” corn, but not Liberty. What a name, marketing at its best, I guess. There is also Liberty Link Canola seed and Liberty Link Cotton. Weed control is made easy with these varieties as you can douse the growing plants with the herbicide and not have to worry about slowing the growth of the crop.

Corn is in almost every processed food. High Fructose Corn Syrup is the least expensive sweetener available and used in almost every manufactured food product that uses a sweetener. As one of the scientists in the film says, “HFCS has basically no nutritional value, only adverse metabolic effects and empty calories”. A cab driver interviewed who used to weigh well over 300 pounds, claims to have lost over 1/3 of his body weight just by stopping his consumption of HFCS containing soda.

All in all this is a very educational film, but with the two kids whose idea it all was, and the other interesting characters throughout the movie, it is a very entertaining 90 minutes indeed. Even the soundtrack is great and the DVD has some great special features that are not to be missed.

Will Sig
1 Organic Eating Daily

Thanks for the film recommendation. Gonna’ check it out and report back with another comment… Any other materials or documentaries to share, please do!

Organic Eating Dailys last blog post..Healthy Recipes: Daikon, Broccoli and Fennel Soup

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2 JD

I’ll have to rent it. I think we talked before about the first 3rd of Omnivore’s Dilemma that covers the ubiquitousness of corn in the American diet.

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3 Jennifer Robin

I saw that movie. Definitely a must see! A recently released book along that same line is “The End of Food” by Paul Roberts.

Jennifer Robins last blog post..Creative Photography Contest

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4 Linda Prout

I appreciate the review. I’m definitely going to rent this. The trailer is hilarious.

But corn these days is not so funny. One of the problems with eating all this corn, aside from ingesting a genetically modified herbicide than can become activated in the body plus cross link with your own genes, is a food sensitivity or allergy. By getting a daily dose of a single food over and over (and corn is in much of the food supply), we can form an allergy to it and suffer all kinds of unpleasant symptoms: fatigue, brain fog, rashes, sinus congestion, digestive problems, cravings (especially for sweets made of corn syrup), high blood pressure – the list is long. The UK reports food allergies are up 50 percent since the advent of GMO food. As a nutritionist, I see the fall out. You don’t want a diet of this stuff.

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5 Steve

hi Will, based on your intriguing statement “Almost all of the corn grown today can not be eaten by humans until it has been processed and put into processed foods” and your recommendation for the movie, I have added it to my Netflix queue. I just had to be careful after searching for “King Corn” to add it and not “Children of the Corn”, though you post title might imply the second choice. :) I look forward to seeing it. ~ Steve

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6 Andrew Flusche

When I saw the post title in my feed reader, I thought you were going to say that we came from corn or something crazy like that. :)

This sounds like a fascinating movie. I had no idea that a single acre of corn produced such a high yield. That is astounding!

Andrew Flusches last blog post..Nationwide Trademark Protection

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7 Will

Hi Andrew! Nice to see you here again! That high yield is totally unnatural. It certainly contributes to the low cost of our food, but at what expense? It impacts our health, the health of the land, and the U.S. medical costs. So we have cheap processed food, but pay in other ways in the end.

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8 JD

Will, the second part of the change thats resulted in dirt cheap commodity corn and soy and wheat and rice is a extreme dependence on fossil fuels throughout the commercial agricultural chain.

As a result record oil and gas prices like we have now result in record food prices… like we have now.

JD’s last blog post… Before You Blame OPEC Look Closer to Home

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9 Will

JD – There is an interesting little scene in the movie where a waitress, I think, talks about all the farmers who jump on their huge tractors every morning and do a few hours of diesel intensive work and then are in her place driving her crazy, bored and twiddling their thumbs the rest of the day. Add to the huge machinery, the petroleum based fertilizers. etc. and you are exactly right.

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10 Kirsetin

Thanks for the recommendation. Michael Pollen talks about this, as well, which I’m sure you know. Definitely food for thought; sorry for the pun!

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11 chaosgone

Thanks for the movie review. I will have to get that movie from Netflix.

chaosgones last blog post..Predictions

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12 Bob

I’ll have to take a look for this one, sounds pretty interesting, never even heard of it before, thanks Will.

Bobs last blog post..Lightning and The Phoenix Lander

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13 Swubird

Will:

I haven’t seen the film, but I have mixed feelings about using more corn for fuel.

I do believe that corn is chucked full of empty calories like the man said. My own sister lost a lot ton of weight just by eliminating corn syrup from her diet as much as possible. However, I believe that using corn for fuel is a slippery slope. Once we start raising our traditional food/plant products for energy, we’ll soon be on the short end of food supply. After all, you can make energy out of a lot of plant products. It all depends on the BTU’s your looking for. Biodiesel is a good example. You can buy it in specific proportions: 20, 40, 60 80, or 100%.

Happy trails.

Swubirds last blog post..MISTAKES OF YOUTH

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14 Steve

hi Will, I got so caught up in your “what is this wildflower” post that I didn’t get a chance to make this comment. I got King Corn from Netflix 2 days ago and watched it that night. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. First, it is just a well-made, interesting, entertaining movie – I keep wondering how a couple of beginners made such a polished film (better than a lot of the Hollywood stuff that I’m sure costs a lot more to make). I think one can also accurately call this a documentary (unlike some other films). These kids really focus on providing the facts and let people form their own opinions. I like that. What I got from this movie is that we grow a lot of corn! Very little of it is eaten as corn. Half feeds cows I think, and combined with confinement feeding has changed the amount of saturated fat in beef from a little over 1 gram to 9 grams (if I remember correctly). A lot of corn goes into HFCS, but 70% of high fructose corn syrup goes into SODA. Since my family doesn’t drink soda and eats beef only once or twice a week, I don’t think we personally are that exposed. I think this is a complicated subject. I question the level and method of government subsidies. A real part of the “problem” though is that people need to decide to eat healthy. I’m not an advocate of cheap bad food, but I don’t know that the government can make people eat healthy, that is, I’m not sure if brocolli was as subsidized if everyone would eat it (thought I would love that). I think many humans are programmed to eat too much and to like fat and sugar (hfcs or cane), and not broccoli. Well, I go on too much. I agree this a a great film. ~ Steve

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15 JDixon

Have you seen the recent TV commercials. The Corn Refiners Association decided to ’show’ high-fructose corn syrup was as safe as sugar.

They’re pretty crazy and I don’t think its safe advertising.

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16 selena

Funny pictures, and interesting post. As for me, I like corn very much, and i even can imagine my life without boiled corn.

selenas last blog post..Google tastes the patients history in electronic form

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17 Gina

Looks like a great film. I’d not heard of this, but I’d like to check this out.

And I’m always glad to hear HFCS reported as ebing the culprit for health maladies. I wish that more people knew about this and did something to avoid it.

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18 Bumbles

Oh very nice review! I too had not heard of this documentary – sounds right up my alley. Do you know that when I began changing my eating habits I read that you can gain 20 pounds or something like that every year just from drinking soda? I used to drink a can of Coke every morning for breakfast (I don’t like coffee or tea) and now I only have one on the weekends. I don’t know how much that helped in my weight loss but I know it didn’t hurt. And I am obviously much less reliant on caffeine.
.-= Bumbles´s last blog ..ON BOOKS ~ The Time Traveler’s Wife… =-.

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19 Tom McAssey

I recommend the film, Food Matters. This has really got me interested in changing what I eat. After watching King Corn, I see how corn is used in almost everything on the shelves in stores. HFCS is more fattening than sugar. The bottom line is food has become a business of making profit. We are growing foods like corn in masses to feed livestock, and to put in our food products. We eat both of them, so we are becoming corn. Our land should be used for foods that are healthy for us humans. We can change what is put into our supermarkets by purchasing only organically produced foods. The government can’t stop these large corporations, so why don’t “we the people” change it. Anything that is commercially produced is wrong for our bodies. If we do make a big change, it will have a ripple effect in the stock market. For example chemical companies will go down fast because we will be eating foods that are not sprayed with chemicals. The whole medical industry will suffer because people will be too healthy, and eventually will be forced into having universal health care. The private health insurance companies will go out of business. The food industry will be forced to getting our products from the local farmer, which would be better for the entire community. Food would not have to travel 1500 miles to get to the supermarket shelves, so the trucking companies may suffer, but will save plenty on fuel. Oil consumption will go down because we would be using less oil to produce products. Total production will go down, however we would be living happier, and healthier lives. It’s true, you are what you eat!

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20 Will

Hi Tom – The profit in agri-business foods is coming even as much of our food is priced artificially low. It will be tough for people to change to healthier diets if the costs are much higher. It will also be tough to not sell food that travels 1500, or more miles to the store. People have gotten used to apples from South America in May, green beans from Mexico in March.

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