Walking corn – that’s what we all are. It may be a strange thought at first, and I’m sure most of us don’t necessarily see ourselves as such, but a nation of corn people is really what we’ve become.
I never fully appreciated the absolute stranglehold corn has on the American diet until I started reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s a great book – Pollan doesn’t just expose the insanity of our country’s dietary logic, he does so in a style that’s light-hearted, conversational, and easy to follow. He sets the tone and premise of the book in its very first line: “What should we have for dinner?” What I’m learning is that whatever the answer to that question may be, you can bet corn’s going to be in there somewhere.
Consider this: If you walk into the supermarket today, a quarter of everything you see will list corn or a corn derivative as an ingredient. Not just the snack aisle –the dairy section, the cosmetics, even the pharmaceuticals all contain corn. Not to mention, corn is what fattened up almost everything at the meat counter. Fish too. All corn.
Or what about this: As an American, 70% of the carbon in your body is corn-based. That means of the portion of you that isn’t water, half is corn. We’re all basically corn soup.
But I don’t want to be a corn person anymore. And it’s about much more than my carbon levels.
I’ve got a couple reasons for disavowing the lifestyle. For one, I just don’t like the idea of an undiversified palate. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with corn itself – it’s a perfectly tasty grain – but I’d just rather not get all of my sustenance from a single source. Not only is doing so conceptually boring, it seems biologically unsound. Diversity is key in ecosystems and in gene pools, shouldn’t it be just as important in omnivorous diets?
My other reason for disillusionment is more cut and dry – the corn industry itself is bogus. I’ll let you read the book to get really into the nitty gritty, but basically thanks to a constant stream of government funding, the market price for corn is now less than it costs for farmers to grow it. Think about that. Growing corn is essentially a loser’s game. This raises the obvious question: why, then, would any right-minded farmer enter it (let alone more than half of the farmers in the country)?
The answer is a little complicated, but basically it comes down to the fact that the government pays farmers per bushel of corn. The more corn they grow, the more money they get. Invariably, this “grow for broke” system leads to flooding the market and driving falling prices even lower. To combat these declines, farmers grow even more, relying on the federal subsidies to get by.
Pretty bizarre system, right? It certainly doesn’t help the farmer, who sees the fruit of his labor lose value by the season. It doesn’t necessarily help the government either, which has to fork out cash to foot the bill. So whom, then, is this whacked out corn-policy benefiting? Big business.
Corn processors – the two biggest being Cargill and ADM – are the real benefactors of constantly falling prices. Plummeting material costs mean they can sell their goods for less money and make more profit. With some of that extra cash, they can even stuff some congressmen’s pockets to make sure the whole system keeps on running.
So basically, farmers remain trapped in a winless game with diminishing returns. Consumers are lured with low-prices and huge advertising campaigns to buy poisonously unhealthy food. And the government and big business line their pockets with cash. This is the ecosystem in which corn people live.
But I am a corn person no longer. This year I vow to start paying closer attention to corn’s many shapes and sizes. If I want corn (i.e. corn), I’ll eat it. But if I want anything else that falls under the vast list of corn-things (see below), I’ll try to get around it.
Join me in my escape from the clutches of big corn, and read Omnivore’s Dilemma… it’ll change the way you look at almost everything you eat.
Adhesives (glues, pastes, mucilages, gums, etc.)
Automobiles (everything on wheels)
– cylinder heads
– ethanol – fuel & windshield washer fluid
– spark plugs
– synthetic rubber finishes
Batteries, dry cell
Coatings on wood, paper & metal
Colour carrier in paper & textile, printing
C.M.A. (calcium magnesium acetate)
Crayon and chalk
Dextrose (intravenous solutions, icing sugar)
Ethyl and butyl alcohol
Explosives – firecrackers
Flour & grits
Ink for stamping prices in stores
Instant coffee & tea
James, jellies and preserves
Paper board, (corrugating, laminating, cardboard)
Paper plates & Cups
Pharmaceuticals – The Life Line of The Hospital
Shaving cream & lotions
Soaps and cleaners
Starch & glucose (over 40 types)