Monday, April 28, 2008

King Corn: When is Too Much Enough?

Too much of something sounds like paradise when there's a shortage. Which is exactly why there is now too much corn in the U.S.A. food chain. During the mid 1970's the opportunity to "feed the world" was the cause taken up by the United States government. They supported the growing of more corn so well, that corn has become the preeminent grain.

Not that corn is a bad thing. I love eating corn tortilla chips, corn bread, and other dishes obviously made out of corn. I've even made a retablo in the Hispanic tradition of sacred art, titled La Conquistadora / The Corn Maiden. The indigenous peoples from the High Plateau south through the lands of the ancient Mayans, cultivated and revered corn. According to Michael Pollan in his book, Omnivore's Dilemma, Mayan descendants refer to themselves as the corn people. The phrase "I am corn walking" refers to the fact that the very substance of their bodies are mostly from corn.

The problem for us in the North is that corn has infiltrated every level of our national food supply in a way that isn't so obvious. After reading Pollan and seeing King Corn, I visualize us as corn swimming in corn. In the U.S.A. meat animals like cows, pigs and chickens are fed corn, and it has infiltrated most processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup and other corn derived flavors and enhancers used in the food industry.

The feature documentary movie, King Corn - You Are What You Eat, a film by Arron Woolf, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney is about this one food that has become so ubiquitous in our food chain that they dubbed it King Corn. Here in the U.S. we eat so much corn that the very carbon our bodies are formed of is according to carbon isotope studies, mostly corn (you'll see this test in the movie).

The Bend Film Festival Indie Reels in Bend, Oregon featured the film King Corn (April 22, 2008), along with a guest appearance by Curt Ellis. I went with my movie-buddy Judy Shasek.

In the movie King Corn, we follow Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney to Iowa where they buy an acre of land and grow corn. During his presentation after the film screening, Curt Ellis said that their intent was to learn about food and because there is so much corn, they decided on that grain. Following corn from the soil to the dinner plate, they share insights into the history and economics, environmental and health impacts related to the preeminence of corn in the average national diet.

By the time we've watched them take the first bite of a corn cob fresh from their field and spit it out in disgust, we realize that there is more to corn than we may think. Despite the way the subject plays out, King Corn doesn't try to scare us as much as to make us aware of what's going on in a folksy, affectionate manner. As easy going in tone as King Corn is, there is work to be done and if you visit the website you can click on the"Take Action" tab to learn how national legislation affects the food on our plates.

I've been a fan of good food for all of my life and thanks to movies like King Corn, there is hope that other Americans will discover the connections between food and their quality of life on all levels.

Sharing that message, my daughter and I helped Elliot Sawyer with a little film about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup in the diet. Elliot Sawyer is a young film maker in Bend, Oregon with a message. He's out to get everybody healthy and make them laugh at the same time. He produced and directed the Anti-Nutri Funnel piece. He also acts in it along with Judy Shasek, my daughter Isabella Barna and me. It was fun to act in this piece. In real life we eat very little of the bad stuff. Click here to see Anti-Nutri Funnel.

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