A Summary of the Documentary by Lauren Ruck
Corn, corn alcohol, corn gluten, corn extract, corn flour, corn oil, corn oil margarine, cornstarch, corn sweetener, corn sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, popcorn, cornmeal, cornstarch. King Corn is a documentary that follows two young men from the cornfields of Iowa to the local grocery stores you and I shop at. Their efforts strive to show, you are what you eat. What is it exactly that you eat, that we eat, corn, lots and lots of corn.
These two young men, Ian and Curt begin their journey with a sobering fact. We all will someday die, but maybe sooner than we thought. We are the first generation in American history that has a shorter life expectancy than our parents, and it is because of the food we eat.
At the University of Virginia Ian and Curt visit Professor Steve Macko. Steve specializes in hair analysis. He states that hair is like a tape recorder of everything we put into our bodies. Steve takes samples of Ian and Curt's hair and analyzes it. He says that he can tell from their hair that the carbon in their bodies originates from corn. Corn these days is nearly unavoidable. Every food that has been sweetened is likely to have been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. The meat we eat is mainly corn feed, which is turned into the cow's biomass and then consumed by us. That cookie, made with cornstarch. You get the picture.
So, Ian and Curt set out to do a little research for themselves. They moved from their homes in Boston, to Iowa. They rented one acre of farmland and started the process of farming corn. They applied for their permits, bought their supplies, and with the help of the local farmers, planted one acre of corn.
Industrialized corn has changed drastically over the past 20-30 years with one goal in mind, yield. With the advancement of technology, we not only have hi tech equipment to aid in the process, we also have genetically modified corn. These modifications allow each plant to tolerate being planted very close to one another allowing more plants in a smaller space.
On Ian and Curt's acre they were able to plant 31 thousand corn seeds. With the help of some heavy machinery they process look all of 18 minutes. On average a one-acre plot of corn will yield 5 tons of food, none of which is eatable. The corn must first be processed. Ironically, the Iowa corn farmer can no longer feed himself.
While Ian and Curt waited for their corn to grow they decided to explore all the different place corn ends up. They started with, cows. Currently cows that are bread for market are fed a diet of 60% corn. As it turns out corn actually kills cows, as they are intended to eat grass. However, corn also makes cows fat, fast. Grass fed cows take several years to reach market weight. Corn fed cows typically reach market weight in 120-140 days. The problem is that after about 60-90 days on a corn fed diet the cows develop stomach ulcer and acidosis. If not treated they will die, the treatment, antibiotics. Currently livestock consume 70% of the antibiotics in the United States.
Ian and Curt also followed corn into the grocery stores. Corn is found in almost every product on the grocery store shelf, mainly in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Prior to 1970 no one ate high fructose corn syrup because it was too expensive to make. Now it is by far the dominant from of sugar in food. High fructose corn syrup has no nutritional value, causes adverse metabolic affects, and is merely empty calories.
This increased exposure to corn and corn products has caused an explosion of obesity and disease, namely diabetes. Today 1 in 8 New Yorkers have diabetes. These numbers are a direct result of our nutrition.
Part of the problem is that the government rewards the over production of cheap corn with subsidies. In fact if corn farmers merely grew and sold corn they would lose money hand over fist. The only profit in farming corn comes in government subsidies. We are also part of the problem. We like cheap food, we demand it, and they supply it. On average in this country we spend about 12-15 percent of our income on food. In generations past up to 50% of a family's income was spent on food. We spend less of our income on food than any other generation in history.
I am left reminded of one of my favorite John Mayer songs titled Gravity. He reminds us that maybe, "twice as much aint twice as good and cant sustain like one half could, it's wanting more that's gonna send me to my knees." It this case wanting more might send up to our graves.