film review: King Corn

Brian and I went to a screening of King Corn (now out on DVD) at The Groton School in Groton, Mass. today. He lives in Groton so had seen the signs about it. I missed the film at last year’s IFFB. Director/producer and Yale graduate (and Brian calls ‘tree hugger’) Ian Cheney answered questions afterward. People did not ask about the making of the film as much as the subject matter. He’s a filmmaker not an expert on the growing and production of corn and its products but he learned a bit from the filming. I think that documentarians are journalists with a camera and while you might maintain interests in a topic or subject matter, you move on once you are finished with something. You may go back to similar topics (his next film up at this year’s IFFBoston is The Greening of Southie about the building of a green luxury apartment building in working class South Boston.

The film is fascinating though not completely balanced. Not sure many in the Heartland think that it is. It works though.

So two recent Ivy league graduates decide to find out about the food they have been consuming for as long as they can remember ( a lot of fast food). After hair analysis, they travel to Iowa and make plans to harvest an acre of corn. Not only wil lthey do this but they plan to follow the corn off the lot and into the market (this proves much more complicated). The result is a somewhat startling, certainly provocative documentary about the commercialization of America’s heartland and the piss poor food industry (production-wise). In King Corn, Ian and his friend, Curtis are going to grow getntically modiefied LIberty link corn. During a taste test in August, both guys quickly spit out the corn. Ian says it’s “disugusting.” And Curtis says: “I thought it would taste better.”

I am a non-dairy eating semi-vegetarian. I stopped eating read meat when I was 12 and then poultry at 18. I was a complete vegetarian but when I turned 30, kind of fell off the wagon, I’ll blame it on my brother, Adam, who took me out to dinner at the Linwood Grille (the wood grilled fish looked very appetizing). I eat fish when I’m eating out or with a group of people (sometimes). At home it’s fruit, veggies, legumes, hummus and baba ghanouj. In the film, it states that people spend 15% of their income on food. I feel like I spend much more because I buy most of my food at Whole Foods and also produce is more expensive than a lot of other others.

One acre in Iowa= five tons of food! Iowa grows enough corn to feed the United States but most Iowans do not grow food that feeds their own families. Corn is a huge commodity. A cash cow that feeds cows or becomes corn syrup. Gross. From a certified crop advisor to cattle ranches to a corn syrup factory (they cannot gain entry with cameras but a neatly coiffed woman regales the duo with all the ways that corn syrup can be used: “It browns bread!” “It makes spaghetti sauce less acidic!” to the halls of academia, Ian and Curtis research corn and it’s an eye-opening experience.

Do Americans know the difference between grass fed and corn fed cattle? I suspect not. See this film and you will be questioning it much more if you eat meat. Livestock consume 70% of the antibiotics that are produced. Yes, read that line again: livestock consume 70% of the antibiotics that are produced. A feed lot produced waste comparable to seven million people. Animals that are not grass fed are confined and eat corn so that they get fatter faster. Which makes for cheaper meat and a higher level of saturated fats in meat. Gross gross gross. If you haven’t noticed, cheap food is high in saturated fats. It’s easier to grab something fast than to prepare something sure but it’s so gross to think about what we are putting into our bodies. And yes, I eat some junk food on occasion. I’m not thin at the moment but I was up until the last five years or so! Prior to 1970, high fructose corn syrup was too costly to produce now it’s the first ingredient in most food items.

King Corn is airing on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series.

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