Posts Tagged ‘King Corn’


I recently watched King Corn, a documentary released in 2007,and was impressed with the way it offers a lot of information in an entertaining format. The movie follows college friends Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis during their year as ‘corn farmers’. After arranging to lease an acre of land in a cornfield in Greene, Iowa, they learn the ins and outs of corn farming first hand. Over the course of their ‘year of corn’, they learn about government subsidies, and see how the farming community has been changed by ‘King Corn’. Where once there were many family farms, land has now been consolidated and a single farmer may farm a thousand acres, leaving many old homesteads empty. Most of the corn grown in the region becomes livestock fodder or is processed into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), an ingredient found in many cheap food products. The corn sells so cheaply that in the end, the farmer’s profit is mostly realized from his government subsidy.

Industrial-scale production of corn has changed the American diet. The shelves of any grocery store contain countless products made with high fructose corn syrup, while corn makes up 60% of the feed used to fatten feedlot cattle. When you eat a McDonald’s meal, you are mostly eating corn. The soft drink is made with corn syrup, 50% of the calories from the fries are contributed by the frying oil, probably corn or soy based, and 60% of the feed that produced the beef was corn. Much of this change to American diets has happened in the last few decades. High Fructose Corn Syrup began making its way into the American food system in the 1970s. Changes to government subsidies to promote the growing of cheap corn came about under Earl Butz, appointed Secretary of Agriculture in 1971. Butz urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn “from fencerow to fencerow.” His policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations and the decline of the small family farm. The rise of King Corn has been matched by a rise in American obesity and diabetes rates.

It’s always interesting to examine how things got to be the way they are, the way we take for granted. Cheney and Ellis don’t point fingers or make accusations. They leave it for you to decide. Is King Corn a good thing?

If you are in the habit of eating every day, King Corn is well worth watching.

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