Friday, April 18, 2008

King Corn

Is there such a thing as a documentary that isn't depressing? Can you think of even one? Is there something inherent about the format that it seeks to unearth a facet of human life that we thought was A-OK but suddenly Dun-dun-dun! we learn is truly a system with greed and opportunism at its core? Oy. Remind me not to watch documentaries late at night because it makes it difficult to go to sleep after watching one.

The one I happened to catch right before bed this evening was on PBS called King Corn. It is about two guys who go to Iowa to plant an acre of corn and see where that corn ends up. Sounds mundane enough. Well it turns out that almost our entire food system is fueled with corn and it has caused the cheapening of food both monetarily and nutritionally and has almost completely shut out the operations of family-owned farms. When the government stopped subsidizing farmers and encouraging them to limit their farm growth (which kept crop prices high), and instead paid them to produce produce produce, it caused the expansion of super-cheap corn. With so much corn in the system cattle stopped being grass-fed and became penned up and fed corn all day because it is cheaper and it fattened them up faster. It turns out cows were never meant to consume such large quanities of grain and many get very sick with ulcers from it. OY. Didn't want to know that. [It also turns out that unless you were born more than 30 years ago you likely have never tasted grass-fed beef.]

The other effect of so much corn in the system was to find a way to process it into a cheap source of suger, hence high fructose corn syrup. This corn syrup has no nutritional value but has become the staple for almost all processed foods. A can of soda is liquid candy. Liquid high fructose corn syrup. They make the point in the film that the fast-food industry is almost all corn-based. The meat is corn-fed, the fries are fried in corn-oil, the soda is corn syrup. They featured a cab driver from New York city whose entire family has diabetes. His father lost his entire leg over time, and eventually died, and several other family members have either died or suffered severe health complications due to the disease. It was noted that they were all overweight and ate this type of quick-to-get cheap food. The cabby himself lost 50lbs just from cutting soda completely from his diet. Wow.

So what's the answer? Well typical of a documentary, there isn't an easy one. The reality is that our American generation spends about 12% of our annual income on food, and this includes restaurant eating. This is far less than any other generation, not to mention what other countries spend, so we have more of our income to spend on buying other fun stuff. Americans demand cheap food. And with this demand there is the ever increasing reality that cheap food sources and the commercialization of farming will continue to dominate agricultural practices.

Sleep tight everyone!

1 comment:

Chelsea said...

You write very well.