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    Archive for the ‘King Corn’ Category

    Turn It On: King Corn

    Eye-opening documentary King Corn is coming to a television screen near you on April 15, thanks to PBS’ Independent Lens series.

    Until then, you can view the King Corn trailer here.

    Lastly, cross your fingers and head here to see if your local PBS station is showing this riveting look at the state of farming — and the food supply — in the United States.

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    In The News: All Corned Out

    The United States’ mind-blowing surplus of corn — largely encouraged by the government for ethanol production — was recently touched upon in this year’s superb documentary King Corn.

    Now, The New York Times’ Andrew Martin takes this issue one step further and reveals the latest crop battle: food vs. fuel.

    In fact, this might very well explain the reason behind the recent rising prices of everyday staples like milk, carrots, and broccoli.

    [Food manufacturers and livestock farmers] seethe at government mandates for ethanol production. The ethanol boom, they contend, is raising corn prices, driving up the cost of producing dairy products and meat, and causing farmers to plant so much corn as to crowd out other crops,” writes Martin.

    Certainly an eye-opening (and anger-inducing) read.

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    King Corn: I Ask, They Answer

    At the recent screening of King Corn I attended, three of the people involved with the documentary (the editor, director, and one of the two creators) held a question and answer session with the audience.

    Armed with my trusty notebook, I raised my hand. My question — and their answer — follows.

    ME: “[In the film, we don't see any organic farming.] Did you come across any farmers [in Iowa] who grew organic crops? How do some of the farmers you spoke to feel about using pesticides on their crops? Do you know of any physical side effects from using these chemicals?

    KING CORN “CAST”: We absolutely saw a lot of people doing organic farming. We shot 500 hours of film and had to condense it to 82 minutes, so you can imagine all that was left out.

    Actually, what we call “organic” here in a place like New York City isn’t a novel concept to a lot of farmers. To them, that’s just normal “farming.”

    The issue of pesticides and chemicals used in farming is of huge concern to us. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there is a 60 mile “dead” zone in the Gulf of Mexico where the water is completely deprived of oxygen.

    No life can grow or live there, and it’s because of runoff — waste water and fertilizer runoff — that travels down from farms in the Midwest. It’s terrible what these agricultural chemicals do.

    The impact goes beyond the immediate area around the farm, or even whoever ends up eating whatever is grown on that farm.

    From our research, it seemed that many of the women who farmed and were exposed to some pesticides and chemicals developed Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This stuff can’t be good for you if you are literally surrounded by it every day.

    By the way, there’ s a great organization called the Practical Farmers of Iowa. They’re doing some really great stuff. They want to help farmers transition towards diversifying their crops and make them more profitable, and they are also interested in ecological preservation and keeping farming as an earth-friendly practice.

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    King Corn: By The Numbers

    Continuing with my coverage of King Corn (which Entertainment Weekly stamped an absolutely worthy “A-” on), here are some mind-blowing figures presented in the d0cumentary:

    * The average farmer in Iowa owns 1,000 acres of crops (corn being the overwhelming majority).

    * Each acre of corn contains 31,000 kernels.

    * Each acre of corn produces 5 TONS of food.

    * With today’s modern technology, it takes just eighteen minutes to spray those 31,000 kernels with herbicides and pesticides.

    * By the way, these sprayers have a ninety foot span!

    * Thirty-two percent of the United States’ corn production is exported to other countries or used to make ethanol.

    * Approximately fifty percent is fed to livestock.

    * The remaining eighteen percent is used to make high fructose corn syrup, used in sodas, breads, cookies, and pastries.

    * Zero percent — that’s right, none — of industrialized corn can be eaten off the cob. Due to its genetically modified properties, commodity corn must first be processed before it can be consumed.

    * Sixty percent of cows’ diet in the United States consists of corn. The other forty percent? A variety of grains, including wheat.

    * Seventy percent of all antibiotics in the United States are consumed by cattle.

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    King Corn: Cows + Corn = Moooochos Problemas

    One of King Corn’s focus is the consequences of utilizing a large portion of the country’s corn surplus to feed livestock.

    Fifty years ago, cows in the United States, like others around the world, subsisted on a simple, natural diet of grass and hay.

    In the early 1970s, though, when farmers were instructed to produce as much food as possible — resulting in a tremendous surplus of corn — cows’ diets radically changed.

    Gone was grass, in was corn (often mixed in with grains also foreign to cows’ diets until that time).

    Livestock breeders couldn’t be happier about this change. On a corn diet, cows fatten up a lot quicker, especially when cruelly crowded in feedlots, literally unable to walk. In other words? More cow to sell in less time.

    From a cow’s standpoint, however, the glass isn’t so full.

    Cow’s digestive systems are unable to handle corn and grains. Consequently, after a year of said diet (after 12 months, most are then sent to slaughterhouses), many cows get sick.

    A sick cow, though, is useless to a breeder. So, as “insurance”, antibiotics are mixed into their food supply. It is believed that antibiotic residue in the food we eat is partly responsible for developing antibiotic resistance in our own bodies!

    Even with this precaution, many cows become sick to the point where their blood pH drops, often resulting in a life-threatening condition known as acidosis.

    In fact, corn is so harmful to cows that if they were to eat it continuously for 18 months, their systems would go into overload, resulting in death.

    According to King Corn, everyone who has eaten conventional beef in the United States over the past thirty years has eaten purely corn-fed meat.

    This is especially troubling considering that the fat ratio in the United States’ diet is completely imbalanced.

    Ideally, we want our Omega 6 (an essential fatty acid found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and plants) and Omega 3 (another essential fatty acid, found in walnuts, flax, salmon, tuna) ratio to be approximately 4 to 1. Current estimates place ratios anywhere from 15:1 to 20:1!

    What’s wrong with that? These disproportionate numbers greatly increase our risk of developing inflammatory diseases, including Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and degenerative joint disease.

    As if that weren’t bad enough, beef from corn-fed cows contains as much as five times more unhealthy saturated fat than that of grass-fed cattle!

    You can now see why having our food supply so saturated with corn — which provides Omega 6 fatty acids — is a problem.

    Consider a fast-food meal of a hamburger, fries, and soda.

    You are getting corn in your hamburger, both in the corn-fed beef and the bun (which contains high-fructose corn syrup).

    The fries? Very likely fried in corn oil (it’s the cheapest, and you know fast foot outlets are all about cutting costs and maximizing profit!)

    The soda? If it’s not diet, you’re getting your share of high-fructose corn syrup as well.

    Next time you’re at the supermarket, read the ingredient lists of the foods you place in your cart, keeping track of how many items contain high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn oil, corn gluten, hydrolyzed corn, etc.

    I have a feeling you’ll be surprised.

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    King Corn: Review

    I caught King Corn earlier today — and highly, HIGHLY recommend you do too.

    I was lucky enough to be at a special screening which was followed by a question and answer session with one of the two documentary’s stars as well as the director and editor of the project (my question, and their answer, will be posted separately).

    The movie begins with friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis getting a strand of their respective hairs tested in a lab. The result? A rather large amount of carbon in their bodies. The culprit? Corn.

    It is made clear from the beginning that the problem is not corn on the cob. Rather, it’s all the ubiquitous corn byproducts in the United States’ food supply.

    In just 88 minutes, we watch as Curtis and Ian travel from Boston to Greene, Iowa (where, coincidentally, both their great grandfathers’ once lived) in early January of this year to plant their own acre of corn.

    As the months roll on, the agricultural dynamic duo begins to ponder — and investigate — where the genetically modified corn they are growing — none of which is edible in its natural state — will end up.

    The answers aren’t pretty: cattle feedlots, soda, bread, frying oil, cookies, soups, pasta sauce…. the list goes on!

    Sprinkled throughout the documentary is commentary from Michael Pollan (who I asked to participate in our “Speaking With…” section a few months back but declined via his assistant, due to too many commitments) and Harvard’s Walter Willett.

    Both experts make it clear that the surplus of corn in the United States is behind many severe problems, ranging from rising obesity rates to the deplorable downfall of small farms.

    King Corn also teaches a valuable lesson on the history of agriculture in this country, explaining how farmers went from originally being paid NOT to over-produce to today’s record-shattering crop numbers (each acre of corn contains 31,000 kernels!)

    Rather than write a long post covering the important issues — and dishing out some eyebrow-raising statistics shown — in the film, I will blog about King Corn throughout the week to give it the coverage I feel it deserves.

    If it’s playing at any of your local theaters, do not miss out! Dates and locations are below:

    October 19 — Washington, DC & Boston, MA

    October 26 — Los Angeles, CA

    November 2 — San Francisco & Berkeley, CA

    November 9 — Austin, TX

    November 9 – 15 — Chicago, IL

    November 11 — Pleasantville, NY

    November 21 — Pleasantville, NY

    December 7 — St. Louis, MO

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