King Corn is one of those documentaries that I’ve been hearing about for years. I remember people raving about it when I was in nutrition school, saying it was one of those “must-see” films about the food industry, but I never got around to actually watching it until now. When I saw that it was offered on GaiamTV, I figured it was about time I check it out.
The documentary (which came out in 2006) follows 2 college friends, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, as they embark on a mission to learn the truth about the food industry. Hearing news that for the first time in American history, our generation was at risk of having a shorter lifespan than our parents, and that it was because of what we eat, their curiosity led them to do some research of their own.
When they did their initial investigating, they found that “we’re basically made out of corn” due to the high amount of corn in every virtually all processed foods in America. We’re talking about corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn startch, corn solids, hydrolyzed corn protein and more. Corn is a part of our lives every day, and most people don’t even realize it.
Wanting to understand exactly how this crop has taken over the American food system, Ian and Curt decided to move to Iowa, grow an acre of corn and learn along the way. Here’s what they found:
The majority of corn grown in America is genetically modified to resist herbicide, contains extremely high levels of starch, is sprayed with ammonia fertilizer, and is government subsidized. So the more corn you grow, the more money you get from the government. “There is one goal in mind: yield,” according to Michael Pollan, who contributed to the documentary.”The corn isn’t actually edible. It’s a raw material used to make processed food. Everything on your plate is corn. Our government subsidy system rewards the overproduction of cheap corn.”
Most of the corn will be fed to animals as feed or converted into high fructose corn syrup — and both of these processes lead to the deterioration of our health.
You’ve likely heard that it’s better to eat grass-fed beef than corn-fed beef. Why? Well, the cattle aren’t meant to be on a corn-based diet. They get ulcers and they get sick. They are confined and fed continuously until they are large enough to be slaughtered. Antibiotics are added to the corn so the livestock can survive the conditions of confinement. The corn feed itself would kill the animals eventually, but they are slaughtered before that can happen. So you end up with meat that’s pumped full of antibiotics and is the product of obese, extremely sick cows.
Feeding corn to cattle also produces a much higher level of saturated fat in the meat. “A corn-fed steak may have as much as 9g of saturated fat, where a grass-fed steak would have 1.3 grams. This is the meat we eat in America. Hamburger meat is fat disguised as meat,” said Loren Cordain from the University of Colorado.
The other factor the documentary focused on as it relates to our health, aside from corn-fed animals, is the mass production of high fructose corn syrup. Corn syrup is in nearly every fast food and processed food in America, and leads to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and has adverse metabolic effects. Soda is basically liquid corn syrup. “We’ve degraded our food supply,” said Walter Willett from Harvard University.
It’s all based on profit and efficiency, to produce the highest amount of corn possible. Even the farmers understand that they aren’t growing real food. They don’t eat the corn they grow.
One farmer said, “We’re not growing quality. We’re growing crap. The poorest quality crap the world’s ever seen. I don’t grow my corn for food. I don’t care what’s done with it. I’m selling it.”
At the end of the documentary, one thing was abundantly clear. Industrialized agriculture equals cheap, low-quality food that weakens our health.
Food for thought, right?
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic or finding out how you can get involved, check out the King Corn site.