In an effort to underail myself: I will extend myself to include a movie review (woohoo!). I went on a documentary-downloading spree recently when I realized how sweet they actually are. Maybe it’s my post-college “i want to learn about real world things” spree, but they are probably just totally cool. In my younger life I became disillusioned by documentaries because I perceived them as being boring (ahem, winged migration), but now I am totally digging them along with non-fiction books. In any case, I am playing catch-up watching all of my documentaries currently. Excuse the sidenote, but I recently watched King Corn.
This entertaining doc takes on the American industry that surrounds, you guessed it: corn. The story is told by two young men who buy 1 acre of land in Iowa to grow corn. From tilling to planting to fertilizing to spraying to harvesting and selling, the documentary illuminates the realities of the American industrial agriculture industry. If you are familiar with this subject matter, then the takehome messages probably aren’t revolutionary (aka everything mass produced derives from corn), but the storytelling and characters make this film worth-seeing.
Some thoughts this film nails home:
1) Government Subsidies are Backwards – in the 1970s the government subsidy system switched from trying to limit corn production and upholding the market price, to rewarding farmers for expanding and using all available land for corn production. In the process the increased yield degraded land, relied on fertilizers and herbicides to grow, AND decreased the nutritional value of the product. The government subsidy program gives $28 per acre of corn produced, without which the farmers would pull a loss for each acre harvested. Hence farmers rely on the government subsidies to live and can only really compete if they are cultivating loads o’ corn.
2) Corn is in Everything – corn syrup is in most processed foods. Corn-fed beef is in most cheap meat. And it is not good for you. Corn that specializes in high yield, which in this case means not so much a high yield plant as a high yield area (corn that can grow while packed close together), is a high starch, low protein crop. AKA all simple sugars – not good for you. The dangerous part is: this stuff is sweet (literally)! Unfortunately it is quickly increasing the prevalence of diabetes and obesity across the country because our bodies are not built for these high levels of processed sugar.
3) Farmers Aren’t the Bad Guys – the biggest takehome: farmers aren’t trying to make our country an unhealthy place filled with highly processed foods. They are only playing into a model that was put forth by our US government and they must do what it takes to make a living. If that money is in growing thousands of acres of land, then that’s what they must do. Obviously, there is always free choice involved, but when there is a demand for corn like we have in the US, if one farmer doesn’t do it, another will. These principles extend to ranchers who own feedlots too. Some don’t have the financial capability to break free of the established system of subsidies that support the growth of cheap food. The only way to break this cycle in the long term is to a) change governmental policy at the highest level, or b) change the food that we buy on a regular basis and spread that change to the people around us. Which one is more feasible? I’ll let you decide.
Lets stop spending our money on health care expenses and put it towards getting better food on our plates.
In any case, didn’t mean to get all preachy there. In summary: King Corn – good flick. Entertaining, educational, extra barrel of laughs (the three E’s, what more could you ask for?) Interesting fact: if you eat lots of things with corn, it will be traceable in your hair. You are what you eat. Pretty corny, huh?