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King Corn
April 20, 2008 10:45 PM   Subscribe

Cheap Corn Makes Your Life Short
posted by thisisdrew (41 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Was all set to make a snark about Cheap Porn, but upon watching the trailer I have to say that the film does really look good. I'm glad we seem (thanks in part to Michael Moore) to have entered a real golden age of documentary and activist film making, and to make what could be a potentially dull subject like agribusiness into something both entertaining and informative is a real feat. So if the film is as good as the preview suggests, I will definitely look for it. Thanks for the post.
posted by ornate insect at 11:02 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sheep porn makes your wife snort.
posted by humannaire at 11:06 PM on April 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


My repeated cries of "augh, corn!" have become an in-joke amongst my friends. But, you know, it really is bad for you. Everything is, taken to that extreme degree.
posted by blacklite at 11:06 PM on April 20, 2008


The problem, though, is that extreme degree is taken for us. And I speak as someone who must raid various supermarkets this time of year to get the yummy, HFCS-free kosher-for-Passover Coke.

If you are getting prepared foods, most anything that has complex carbohydrates that isn't just raw grains ... there's an awful lot of HFCS floating about in there. Not just bad-for-you snack foods, either. The market isn't really free enough to help us out here, due to various lobbies and whatnot. Gotta protect those farmers giant farming combines owned by faceless corporations.
posted by adipocere at 11:20 PM on April 20, 2008


I saw it last fall in a local theater. The film is great but not as hip as the trailer suggests.

The trailer is edited in a fairly quick, jumpy manner compared to the film, and also reverses the storyline. The film begins as the two guys find out corn is everywhere. They set out to grow it. Then, from there, they set out to interview people.

It is a relaxed, smart presentation that doesn't require a viewer to have background knowledge on the issue. You'll laugh and gasp throughout.
posted by parhamr at 11:24 PM on April 20, 2008


OH! The film will also lead you to hate (the recently deceased) Earl Butz.
posted by parhamr at 11:25 PM on April 20, 2008


Hey, love him or hate him, Earl Butz sure had some great eyeliner!
posted by blacklite at 11:38 PM on April 20, 2008


Meanwhile:
Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

In Japan and South Korea, some manufacturers for the first time have begun buying genetically engineered corn for use in soft drinks, snacks and other foods. Until now, to avoid consumer backlash, the companies have paid extra to buy conventionally grown corn. But with prices having tripled in two years, it has become too expensive to be so finicky.
posted by pracowity at 12:03 AM on April 21, 2008


Not to derail, but I'm curious on the obesity stats they fling around; several times I've read articles which strongly criticize the methodology used for those statistics -- I didn't quite understand it, but the allegation was that the BMI values which are judged "overweight" and "obese" haven't been recalibrated with changes in things like height distribution in the general population, and so people who are quite fit but a bit taller than the original BMI scale could account for are erroneously counted as overweight or even obese.

Anyone know if I'm just hallucinating this, or if there's been any change in how that stuff's calculated?
posted by ubernostrum at 12:14 AM on April 21, 2008


Brad Hicks on High-Fructose Corn Syrup and why it's so prevalent.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:22 AM on April 21, 2008


OH! The film will also lead you to hate (the recently deceased) Earl Butz.

Loose shoes? Huh? What's that all about? The other 2 things on the Butz's list I enjoy myself.
posted by chillmost at 12:24 AM on April 21, 2008


Brad Hicks on High-Fructose Corn Syrup and why it's so prevalent.

Would love to hear the point without all the "hippies are unimportant and impotent, but they changed everything" standard spiel that passes for much social analysis today. And the point being? Oh yeah, hippiez are TO BLAME! (and by the way, those WWII guys were good!, good!, good!)
posted by telstar at 12:35 AM on April 21, 2008


Corn Rules Everything Around Me
posted by dhammond at 12:36 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Loose shoes? Slim
posted by hortense at 12:44 AM on April 21, 2008


"people who are quite fit but a bit taller than the original BMI scale could account for are erroneously counted as overweight or even obese"

Let's see. Where I live, an average women is 1.65 m or so, and that length has been increasing with around 1 mm/year for the last 50 years. At that length, the difference between normal and obese is about 13 kg. The current WHO recommendation is from 1995, which gives us 13 years, or a 13 mm increase in length. I'd say a person that weighs 1 kg per mm is pretty obese, no matter how tall she is.
posted by effbot at 1:35 AM on April 21, 2008


The Oil Crash trailer. I think it's related, just because (selectively quoting from Wikipedia)
Nitrogen-based fertilizers are most commonly used to treat fields used for growing maize, followed by barley, sorghum, rapeseed, soyabean and sunflower.
Maize=Corn and
Nitrogen fertilizer is often synthesized using the Haber-Bosch process, which produces ammonia. This ammonia is applied directly to the soil or used to produce other compounds, notably ammonium nitrate and urea, both dry, concentrated products that may be used as fertilizer materials or mixed with water to form a concentrated liquid nitrogen fertilizer
and
The production of ammonia currently consumes about 5% of global natural gas consumption, which is somewhat under 2% of world energy production.[7]
And the price of gas is certainly influenced by the price of oil
posted by elpapacito at 2:13 AM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's got those wings like a fish.

It’s got a tail like a bird.

21st Century bumper crop.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:04 AM on April 21, 2008


Man, fuck ethanol. Seriously.
posted by zardoz at 4:34 AM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


The most surprising revelation from King Corn for me was that the vast majority of corn produced is just inedible, as corn. It's not like yummy summer corn on the cob. It's a raw material, which is used to feed livestock, make corn syrup, etc.

And, I promised to gouge my own eye out with a grapefruit spoon if I got involved in the BMI debate again, but here goes. The formula for BMI is (weight in kg) / (height in meters squared). This means that 2 groups of people get pushed up into the "obese" category when maybe they don't belong there - muscular people (because muscle is more dense than fat) and tall people. Tall people have this happen because BMI is a function of the square of height, and since our bodies are three-dimensional, it would be more sensible to be the cube of height.

BMI data calculated using a cube formula can be found here.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:37 AM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


i saw this last fall & thought it was pretty damn good - like ornate insect says above, it is great to see so many activist documentaries coming out lately, especially to see the different styles & strategems directors investigate to get their message across

these guys take a very different route than someone like, e.g., Michael Moore - no big pranks or stunts, no grand moments of revealed truth, no hypocritical scumbag turning on a roasting spit to revel in - just a slow narrative of capitalist exploitation taking its toll, much of it reflected in the intimate snapshot glimpses we get to see of the farmers lives & the contradictions they live out every day

the soundtrack, btw, is one of the great things about the film - i really enjoyed it

posted by jammy at 5:20 AM on April 21, 2008


My husband saw this on public tv just this past Saturday night. It had quite an effect on him.
posted by konolia at 5:36 AM on April 21, 2008


This was on tv last night as I was trying to fall asleep. I watched for a while but eventually had to turn it off at the part where they talk about cattle being fed a 90% corn/grain diet in cramped living quarters (so they get fat quicker) as opposed to walking free and grazing on grass as in the past. Their bodies can't deal with so much corn and produce so much acid which does things like eat holes in their stomachs. Then they are pumped full of antibiotics (animals consume 70% of antibiotics).
As I say, I had to turn it off because it was making me worry about more than the normal stuff I freak out and worry about as I'm trying to fall asleep.
posted by chococat at 5:43 AM on April 21, 2008


When I saw this when it was out in theaters, I was skeptical of Earl Butz and his thesis: US Ag. Policy was beneficial because it (1) decreased the price of food and (2) made the production of food virtually invisible to the vast majority of consumers. But I've pondered since and now think that, yes, food is really cheap in the US and that, yes, a majority in the US are not involved in back-breaking farm labor now. So there have been at least two positive outcomes. I do realize there are other issues to do with the sustainability (and fairness) of US Ag. policies. But Butz did have a point that, it seems to me, often gets overlooked in the current climate of plentiful, cheap food (and food-like material).
posted by Wash Jones at 5:55 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fructose bad.

Algae
> ethanol.
posted by flabdablet at 6:13 AM on April 21, 2008


Watched this with my wife on PBS the other night. It was disappointing. We both fell asleep. Maybe because we're currently reading Michael Pollan's Book, or maybe just because it seemed to annoyingly cling to the "amazing" point that he and his pal have roots in the same small town. Who knows. Pollan's chapter on Corn was much more enlightening and interesting. This film was just kind of thin. It was nice to see some of the process/locations/ and Pollan himself, but otherwise, I give it a "B".
posted by JBennett at 7:49 AM on April 21, 2008


flabdablet: Biodiesel is not the same thing as ethanol.
posted by ssg at 8:31 AM on April 21, 2008


The HCFS paranoia out there is really prevalent and really absurd. There is no evidence that HCFS is any worse for you then regular sucrose (table sugar). But for some reason people freak out because it comes from corn. Of course, lots of table sugar would be bad, but it's not like HCFS is worse. Sucrose breaks down into glucose and fructose in your stomach, and HCFS contains just as much glucose as it does sucrose.

Then they say that you should eat more fruit, all of which contains the dreaded Fructose! I've even had people tell me that fructose in fruits is fine, while fructose in HCFS is bad for you or something. It's absurd.

Brad Hicks on High-Fructose Corn Syrup and why it's so prevalent.

OMG, that guy is totally fucking insane. He thinks we have lots of HCFS because hippies rallied against artificial preservatives. WTF.
posted by delmoi at 8:38 AM on April 21, 2008


flabdablet: Biodiesel is not the same thing as ethanol.

Uh, she didn't say that it was. That little symbol '>' means 'greater than'.
posted by delmoi at 8:39 AM on April 21, 2008


I just wanted to say that I read both Pollan's Omnivore Dilemma and In Defense of Food over vacation two weeks ago. Caught some of King Corn on PBS last weekend but didn't watch it because it just seemed like it was less interesting and informative than Pollan's book.

Both books were great reads, BTW.
posted by daHIFI at 8:55 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The HCFS paranoia out there is really prevalent and really absurd.

Seriously. The problem with HCFS is that we eat WAY too much of it because it's a cheap way for manufacturers to make something taste good enough that people will buy it. It's not that HCFS is necessarily worse for us than sucrose, it's that simple carbs are just awful for homo sapiens. Combined with the low-fat craze, the affordability of HCFS has caused simple carb consumption to go way up.

Consider the basic pre-packaged meatball. Some will be all meat with some spices. Others will have 6-12 grams of carbs, which come in the form of HCFS, sugar, or bread crumbs. The meat is food. The carbs are crappy filler which helps the company's bottom line at the expense of our waistlines.

Replace all your HCFS with sucrose or fructose or "evaporated cane juice" or honey and you will be not a whit healthier. Replace all the "foods" that are full of HCFS with foods that are full of fat, protein, and non-starchy vegetables, and basically every health indicator that we can measure will drastically improve within a couple of months. This is as true if you switch to nothing but hamburgers (no buns or high-carb ketchup!) as it is if you switch to chicken, fish, and broccoli.

Required watching: Science Reporter Gary Taubes on The Quality of Calories: What Makes Us Fat and Why Nobody Seems to Care, at Berkeley.
posted by callmejay at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2008


The HCFS paranoia...

I suppose it could be described as high-corn fructose syrup.
posted by moonlet at 10:45 AM on April 21, 2008


selfmedicating: thinking about the BMI cubed is interesting, and it makes more sense, but I don't think the calculations on the page you linked to are correct either - maybe its just off for the shorter ones?. I mean, 5'7 and 108 pounds is an underweight BMI of 16.9 on normal tables (and generally underweight-looking on people) but according to the table that's a healthy, midrange BMI of 20.
posted by fermezporte at 10:56 AM on April 21, 2008


I watched this on PBS HD last week. I was very impressed and affected by it.

I am seriously considering switching to all grass fed beef, though I wince at the expense of it. I had no idea that feeding corn to cows basically kills them slowly and that they must go to slaughter or they will die.
posted by internal at 10:58 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seriously. The problem with HCFS is that we eat WAY too much of it because it's a cheap way for manufacturers to make something taste good enough that people will buy it. It's not that HCFS is necessarily worse for us than sucrose, it's that simple carbs are just awful for homo sapiens. Combined with the low-fat craze, the affordability of HCFS has caused simple carb consumption to go way up.

i saw it awhile ago so maybe i'm forgetting something but i'd say this is the central thrust of the film - they (& Pollan) argue that the problem with corn (& HFCS) is a problem of monoculture, not of one sugar being more or less good for you - when they do talk about the health effects of an all-corn diet they focus on the messed-up practice of feeding it to cattle

i don't think either they or Pollan are promoting HFCS paranoia - i know no one has said this directly, but i wanted it to be clear, re: the film

another minor point: it is true that King Corn is definitely not as good as Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma - but it is a good movie you can drag folks along to who will never look at Pollan's book, and they'll still get the same important info

posted by jammy at 11:09 AM on April 21, 2008


Also on HFCS vs. actual fruit: Certainly fruit has fructose in it. The vast majority of fruit also has lots of other good things in it, especially dietary fiber, along with vitamins and so forth. The HFCS drenched products of "food science" generally do not.

internal: Switching to grass-fed beef is a good idea, which has several positive outcomes. First, you eat much less beef, cause it costs a mint. :-) Second, what little beef you do eat tastes astoundingly better. Just watch out for slippery marketing terms that imply it was grass-fed but actually mean it was grass-fed for three weeks and then shipped to a CAFO for "finishing" on corn.

My family doesn't eat much beef anymore, mainly due to discomfort with corn-fed animals, CAFOs and so forth. We've found that it's not hard to find organic turkey, and ground turkey can be substituted for ground beef in any recipe where the taste of the beef is not important, or effectively masked anyway. Chili, burgers, meatballs, etc. There are lots of little turkey farms around the country desperate for a non-Thanksgiving market, so you might be able to find a local operation to buy from directly, too. Buy little beef and eat it in a form that shows it off. Like really good steaks.
posted by rusty at 11:25 AM on April 21, 2008


I mean, 5'7 and 108 pounds is an underweight BMI of 16.9 on normal tables

fermezporte, you're right, the cube formula for bmi does give strange results at the low end of the range. I guess using cube instead of square creates more extreme values at both ends of the scale. Of course, this is just one guy's take on bmi - it doesn't have any clinical backing or studies supporting it as far as I know, it's just interesting.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:57 PM on April 21, 2008


I just wanted to chime in and say that I think Ms. Elliott was a visionary with her popular song, "Get your Free Corn."
posted by samsara at 1:43 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Regarding nutrition and health, this guy has been saying for some time now that we should not be looking at individual nutrients, because each is embedded in a complex biological matrix that interacts with a complex biological matrix (us), so we're bound to get silly answers when we try to regard them as having individually identifiable health effects. That, coupled with the growing realization that our little intestinal buddies have much to say about our health, is revolutionizing our understanding of the phrase, "We are what we eat."
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:48 PM on April 21, 2008


I guess using cube instead of square creates more extreme values at both ends of the scale.

BMI and its variants are trying to do something that can't be done with insufficient information: estimate body fat composition. Since humans are highly heterogeneous in all components of body mass, any index depending solely on weight and a single linear dimension will fail to accurately estimate body fat composition. It's a quixotic quest at best.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:51 PM on April 21, 2008


As imperfect as the BMI is, we are more or less stuck with it when doing epidemiological studies because of the relative difficulty of getting an accurate estimate of body fat percentage.

That said, while natural variability can make the BMI an unreliable indicator of heath in an individual, that doesn't invalidate it as a tool to track changes in the health of a population.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:44 PM on April 21, 2008


As imperfect as the BMI is, we are more or less stuck with it when doing epidemiological studies...

Agree completely for survey-based epi. For studies where measurements can be taken, there are much better ways to determine body fat composition (skin-fold, impedance). However, if we could fix the f***ing health care system (or, more accurately, create one) we could actually have solid, biologically based data to identify risk factors and estimate the effect of modifying them. As it is now, we have no way to compile longitudinal information on individuals because of the heterogeneity of the record-keeping systems in hospitals, clinics, insurers, and registries. Even if the records were uniform, privacy laws (I'm looking at you, HIPAA!) make it essentially impossible to use the information for a study without asking each individual if it's okay to use their information for each time one wants to do such a study to improve their health. That is prohibitively expensive.

...that doesn't invalidate it as a tool to track changes in the health of a population.

True up to a point. However, tracking isn't so important as modifying and understanding the impact of the modification. If we were very successful in getting people fit, BMI might not ultimately be a good indicator, due to its failure in the very fit (i.e., those with high muscle mass and very low body fat). But I don't think we're in any danger of reaching that point, as we seem to be going the opposite direction pretty darn fast.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:10 PM on April 22, 2008


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