Monday, March 23, 2009

King Corn

I enjoy a good documentary as much as the next guy and so decided that today King Corn was the film for me. Two recent college grads decide to move to Iowa for a year, rent an acre of land, and become corn farmers. In the process of growing corn, they examine what corn means to this country.

The evils of high fructose corn syrup are well known, but the extent to which corn has pervaded our diet is pretty amazing. It's almost impossible to get beef that isn't corn fed in this country, and the sad truth is that to fatten up cattle, they are placed in feed lots where their movement is severely restricted and they are fed corn which fattens them up before the slaughter. As a result, corn fed beef is higher in fat and saturated fat than grass fed beef. And when you consider that corn syrup is in everything from bread to soft drinks, and that fried foods are often times fried in corn oil, a large percentage of America's diet is comprised of corn, particularly fast food.

It also turns out that over the years, corn has been cultivated to get higher yield strains, sacrificing nutritional value in the process. So the more corn we grow, the worse it is for us, and since it is in almost everything, it is contributing to obesity and all the illnesses that go along with it, particularly diabetes.

The interesting thing about this is that to a large extent, this can be traced to government subsidies originally created by Agricultural Secretary Earl Butz in 1973. He implemented a plan to pay farmers to produce as much as possible. This drove down prices to the point that farmers can no longer make money without subsidies. As a result unhealthy food containing corn and corn syrup are cheaper so people buy and eat more of these unhealthy foods. In a round about way, we are subsidising the poor health and obesity of America. We're subsidising low cost foods with taxes and medical bills.

So maybe it's time to end farm subsidies. At the very least I've been convinced to eat healthier. I gave up soft drinks several years ago, but if I could find grass fed beef I'd be willing to pay more for it. And if I cold find more foods that didn't contain corn syrup I'd pay more for those too.

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