July 19, 2002 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Corn: Planted over patches of American soil totalling twice the size of New York state, corn is our national symbol of agricultural dominance, writes Botany of Desire author Michael Pollan in the NYTimes. But its proliferation may be to blame for some of the most socially and environmentally damaging food products of the last 20 years.

Plus, since the market price for corn is $1 less per bushel than its production cost, you're not only paying the price of obesity, malnutrition, and environmental damage, you're paying, well, $1 a bushel in taxpayer-supported government subsidies.

posted by PrinceValium (27 comments total)
Thanks, but I had a big breakfast of corn smut.
posted by scarabic at 12:24 PM on July 19, 2002

Yikes. Luckily, Quorn is safe. Isn't it?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:33 PM on July 19, 2002

Keep track of the evil plant's progress.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 12:38 PM on July 19, 2002

be like the cool kids, link to NYT this way.
posted by dorian at 12:40 PM on July 19, 2002

That's a-maize-ing.

Welcome to the World of Corn!
posted by Shadowkeeper at 12:41 PM on July 19, 2002

Worldcorn... sounds like they will go bankrupt.
posted by banished at 12:45 PM on July 19, 2002

Our entire food supply has undergone a process of "cornification" in recent years, without our even noticing it. That's because, unlike in Mexico, where a corn-based diet has been the norm for centuries, in the United States most of the corn we consume is invisible, having been heavily processed or passed through food animals before it reaches us.

Exactly. Mexicans even drink corn.

So, why is this bad for the rest of the world again? I doubt humans were evolved to eat the amount of grains (wheat, rice, etc.) that we currently consume, or any domesticated plant/animal for that matter.
posted by vacapinta at 12:48 PM on July 19, 2002

So, why is this bad for the rest of the world again?

The processing, not the raw materials, produces what are essentially consumable byproducts. Corn syrup is pound for pound cheaper than refined white sugar, but the plant is not meant to be consumed in that way. We are letting basic capitalist principles and bad government policy turn good food into bad product.

A hypothetical: Would you consider a person who eats a pound of celery every day to be doing something healthy? Sure, it's a healthy food. What about someone who eats a pound of those little stringy things on the outside of celery stalks, that have been mulched beyond recognition and chemically liquefied?
posted by PrinceValium at 12:58 PM on July 19, 2002

Keep track of the evil plant's progress.

Why, that's as high as an elephant's eye!
posted by ColdChef at 1:02 PM on July 19, 2002

but the plant is not meant to be consumed in that way.

Who didn't mean for us to consume corn in that way?

posted by jaek at 1:09 PM on July 19, 2002

Who didn't mean for us to consume corn in that way?


No, but you're close..
posted by PrinceValium at 1:15 PM on July 19, 2002

How about corn ice cream?
posted by panopticon at 1:31 PM on July 19, 2002

PrinceValium: Seriously. The human diet changed radically with the rise of agriculture. And if we go back even farther we can engage in a debate about whether cooked food is bad for you. What exactly is natural? We eat lots of things that humans were not meant to eat. Who knows, perhaps our diet should consist of raw meat and fruit?

Its passages like this that undermine the author's credibility:

It's probably no coincidence that the wholesale switch to corn sweeteners in the 1980's marks the beginning of the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in this country

It's probably no coincidence... = I am about to engage in wholesale speculation
posted by vacapinta at 1:31 PM on July 19, 2002

Is there a drink made from fermented corn? My partner asked me this the other day and I couldn't think of one. It seems like the other dominant sources of carbs have become traditional drinks in the cultures where they dominate: potatoes make vodka, rye makes bourbon (I think), wheat makes whisky, rice makes sake, but what do we get from corn?
posted by andrew cooke at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2002

vacapinta - actually there was an article in the New York Times magazine a while back that did tie a change in our diet in the early 80's with the rise in obesity - he fingered the switch to "fat is bad" which naturally lead to more processed foods and higher carbohydrate consumption.

Look the archives of Metafilter two sundays ago... I think the FPP title was something like "fat or carbs"

andrew cooke: fermented corn syrup is used in most every low-grade alcoholic beverage to save money - cheap tequila, vodka, beer, whatever.
posted by jaek at 1:44 PM on July 19, 2002

Is there a drink made from fermented corn?

Bourbon is made from at least 51% corn.
posted by shagoth at 1:57 PM on July 19, 2002

jaek, you're right (though what has caused the rise in obesity remains highly controversial). I still think he's playing fast and loose with some facts but then I realized that I was getting worked up over an opinion piece in which, if read carefully, Pollan is actually taking a neutral stance toward the subject and merely noting that there "may be cause for concern"

Moving on:

Corn ears, roasted over a fire/BBQ, then rubbed with lime and lightly sprinkled with salt is probably one of the most delicious foods I know.
posted by vacapinta at 1:59 PM on July 19, 2002

"One has to wonder whether corn hasn't at last succeeded in domesticating us."

And I, for one, welcome our new corn overlords.
posted by homunculus at 2:04 PM on July 19, 2002

In addition to the venerable moonshine and the afore-mentioned bourbon, corn is an essential ingredient in chicha.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:32 PM on July 19, 2002

There is but on reason why virtually all the food in supermarkets are sweetened with High FRuctose Corn Syrup: Its cheaper.

There's but one reason why its cheaper than Sugar: Farm Subsidies

Try this the next time you shop for food. Go the jelly and jam section. Try and find even one american made jam or jelly made with sugar. Then find some european brands. Se if you can find even one imported jam made with Corn Syrup.

As for the science behind this controversy, consider this.

If you accept that there at this time strong indications that sweetening with corn syrup contributes to the epidemic of hyperlipidemia in the US, why the deafening silence? Follow the money
posted by BentPenguin at 2:32 PM on July 19, 2002

Botany of Desire is one of the more interesting books I've read in the past few years. The aptly named Pollan takes four plants and describes our relationship with them and how we've modified them to conform to four different qualities as they have in turn used us to propagate.

The plants and desires are apples, representing sweetness, tulips representing beauty, cannabis representing intoxication, and potatoes representing control.

He also wrote the NYTimes Mag article about how cattle are raised in modern high density feedlots mentioned in this thread from March.
posted by euphorb at 3:25 PM on July 19, 2002

thanks for the info on the spirits. we have something called "chicha" here in chile, but the word is it's made from grapes, so i'm guessing it's a generic name for home-brewed whatever (there's a lot of grapes around here).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:22 PM on July 19, 2002

There's nothing better in the summer than sitting out on the back porch, shucking corn, knowing that later that evening after it's been cooked in a huge pot of boiling water you're going to slather that corn in melted butter and salt and eat it, typewriter-style, until the butter and salt runs down your arms to the elbows and there are enough corn hulls caught between your teeth to keep you busily picking at them for the next week and a half.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:34 PM on July 19, 2002

The Corn Palace, this year's corny murals and webcam.

"A farmer kneels down to inspect his crops. A storm is brewing in the background. Weather is integral to our existence and success. Even though we cannot control Mother Nature, we pray for her cooperation." In Mitchell, SD, the tradition of Chicomecoatl lives on.

Chicanos and Oaxacans still celebrate Xilonen, the young corn with the tasseled hair. Centeotl, corn god, has returned as our Sister Corn, a community center to help the neediest become self sufficient. Yum Kaax, who you may recognize, has inspired both a Cornfield Commentary and an agro-environment program (reforestation, save the turtles, stop smoking, clean up the beaches) ...

Past generations watched for the red ear at the husking bee; today blue corn brings people together.

Nacatamales, nixtamal and masa, posole, pinolillo, atole, polenta, journey cakes, white corn hominy, tortillas, tamales, and grits. Iroquois corn vegetarian soup, Mohawk corn soup, Tuscarora corn soup.

Time to return to eating corn the way the gods intended!
posted by sheauga at 9:48 PM on July 19, 2002

ethanol too.

"Imagine a world where we're not diminishing resources, we're growing them. Ethanol, a cleaner-burning fuel made from corn. ADM, the nature of what's to come."

it is kind of ironic.

maybe if hemp production was subsidized instead! (goes good with grapes and corn :)
posted by kliuless at 9:51 PM on July 19, 2002

Have a few more Hemp Flax Tortilla Chips, kliuless ...
posted by sheauga at 9:58 PM on July 19, 2002

With ethanol or biodiesel dip. Goes good with soy, for Afghanistan. Or amaranth.
posted by sheauga at 10:03 PM on July 19, 2002

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