Corn is something that most Americans think of as an adjunct to a movie, a canned creamy vegetable, and in late summer something that is added to the BBQ menu. The corn story is much more interesting and disturbing as film makers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, show us. “Why is there corn in my hair”, they ask? Corn is everywhere is the answer.

Ian and Curt, friends from college decided to explore the world of corn. Iowa is the heartland of corn, you can drive for mile after mile and see nothing but huge tracts of corn. Although Ian and Curt are East Coasters it turns out that both had connections to the small Iowa town of Greene. As an experiment they decide to become farmers for a year and discover the hidden world of corn.

Renting an acre of prime growing land from a local farmer, the pair, knowing next to nothing about farming follow the advice of the large local producers and replicate on a single acre what they do. The first revelation is the productivity increases that have occurred over the past 100 years, a more than four fold increase per acre. This has been achieved by using ammonia based fertilizers and genetically modified seeds.

It does not take long to discover that this is not the corn of our fore fathers, it is not an end product but a starting point in the food chain. Almost none of the corn produced in Iowa is for direct human consumption, it is mainly used for animal feed or to produce sweetener. Essentially those pretty fields of corn swaying in the breeze are inedible and designed for a different part of the food system.

“We are made of corn”. Our meat is made from corn, our soda is made from corn, walk down the aisles of your local supermarket and read the labels, almost everything contains corn derivatives.

I found this to be a very disturbing look at an economy that few of us understand. Maybe the part that bothered me most is the government subsidies that turn this, at best, marginal crop into a cash cow that fuels so many other less than healthy activities. Ian and Curt may well be right, this could be the first generation of Americans that have shortened their expected lifespan through their eating habits.

I really enjoyed King Corn and if you get the chance check it out. It has also been picked up by PBS for broadcast in 2008. You can also check out the Web Site.

 Simon Barrett

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