King Corn

During a dinner conversation with my girlfriends last night, we were talking about health and the impact nutrition has on it. The discussion came to produce and whether we should really buy organic or not. When I look at the produce in my regular supermarket I can’t help but feel that it is all genetically modified. Seedless Grapes and Watermelon anyone? My friend Kim mentioned King Corn, a documentary she watched a while back about Corn – the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation.

In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat—and how we farm.

8 Comments leave a comment below

  1. You should read The Omnivore’s Dilemma. We (Americans especially) are basically made of corn, walking corn.

  2. Food Inc. is another documentary to keep an eye on, if you’re into this sort of thing. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks like it will be interesting.

    I’m a southern girl (most of my family is in Mississippi), and I grew up around farming and the like. It has been interesting to see, the older I get, how so many farmers go to growing only corn. The general public is largely unaware of this, I think, despite the fact that farmers doing this means other types of produce end up becoming more costly either due to greater rarity or the need to import what used to be produced locally. A lot of it has to do with ethanol production, as well. It is so much more profitable for a farmer to raise a crop of corn than it is for him to raise anything else, that for many it would be senseless not to raise it. Soybeans are also popular crops for most of the same reasons.

    Though I am an advocate for more locally-grown, harvested and prepared foods, I think it should be pointed out that a lot of people get unrealistically jumpy about the term “genetically modified.” Few people even know what it does/doesn’t encompass, because many are ill-educated when it comes to the sciences. There are even some cases where people think what they’re eating is organic, but it is modified. (Seedless grapes, anyone? Or my new favorite, seedless lemons!) Not all modification is bad.

    There’s also the fact that many are scared and believe we are becoming unhealthier by the day, because of what we eat, and this fuels a lot of fear mongering; like, as much as I enjoy these food documentaries, they’re sometimes made by people who seem to know very little about science or farming, but just want to have a bit of a whine about something. While what we’re eating may certainly be killing those of us who do not eat in moderation, the fact is that our lifespan and largely our quality of life continues to increase from generation to generation (so, in the long run). There is a reason our system has turned into the thing it has. It does have problems, but we wouldn’t want to reverse everything, either.

  3. I agree with Kristina, that book changed my whole view of agriculture in the U.S.

  4. Your “King Corn” link is broken, there’s a br tag *inside* the href.

    On an unrelated note, I love reading your posts-thanks for bringing so much great stuff to my attention!

  5. we should all try to eat healthy, properly raised foods (plants and animals alike), but we should also try to avoid falling into the fads and trends of “organic.” how does local play into the larger picture? what about small farms that raise crops organically but cannot afford certification? and isn’t an organic cookie…still a cookie? it’s easy to get caught up in catch phrases, so we should all do our research and be informed consumers! and read michael pollen too.

  6. Yesss, I’ve seen this before. It’s so interesting and informative! Made me think a lot about what I was eating…

  7. While the idea of seedless grapes seems like they might be genetically modified, the trait of being seedless is a recessive gene. There are three main varieties of seedless grapes, for instance Thompson Seedless, Russian Seedless, and Black Monukka, all being cultivars of ‘Vitis vinifera’ (the common wine grape). Grapevines are propagated by cuttings, and therefore there is no “engineering” involved.

    Watermelon indeed is genetically modified. The melon produced is sterile, as it has none of the black seeds, but instead soft pale seeds.

    If you want to talk about serious genetically modified foods, let’s talk about soybeans. Nearly 98% of the nation’s crop is indeed genetically modified. So how then can we consider them “organic” in the sense that they are natural.


  8. The World According to Monsanto is another must see food doco. It is so frightening that it took me several days to recover and was the main impetus for me to get going on my vegetable garden, which now is so prolific that I have food leftover to share with neighbours.