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JANUARY 11, 2009   

King Corn potluck

I've talked about the movie King Corn before: it's a humorous documentary about two East Coast college grads who move to Iowa to plant, grow, harvest and sell an acre of corn. Why? Because someone told them that their generation would be the first in American history to have a shorter expected lifespan than their parents.

What's the connection between a generation dying sooner and the cheap abundant food we Americans eat? Probably it's corn. This is explained in detail in MIchael Pollan's book Omnivore's Dilemma, and I'm guessing that he's the person who opened the filmmakers' eyes to it.

The Corn-O-Meter at right gives you a quick look at how much corn you consume in one way or another in your daily life. I scored a relatively low 30% but admit I fudged a bit. I drink soda and eat fried food occasionally but said "no" to those questions. So I'm really more than 30% corn—how about you?


Yellow and green cookies shaped like ears of cornI got the movie from Netflix and invited a few friends over to watch it on our new TV. The idea was partly just to hang out with folks, partly to spread the film's message. A corn-themed potluck seemed a good addition, so I made a big batch of corn chowder and a plateful of "corn" cookies.

Everyone admired the cookies—store-bought ladyfingers painted with green and yellow food coloring—but carefully avoided eating them. Probably just as well. Fortunately Anita brought a delicious pie home-made from grapes grown in her back yard. She used a little corn starch thickener fit the potluck theme.

The movie

Friends watching King CornEven though Mark and Jared look serious in this photo, the movie has laugh out loud moments, even the second time around.

Still, you're left thinking about how strange the American agricultural system is:

  • We have lots of food (a good thing), so much that it's making us obese (a bad thing).
  • We pay less of our total income for food than any other developed country (good) but the food we eat is probably making us sick (bad).
  • Corn farmers work less (good) but can't feed their families on what they grow (bad).
  • And so on.

Afterwards we talked about what to do with our new-found awareness of what's gone terribly wrong, and the consensus was that there is no quick and easy answer. I think, though, to get pointed in the right direction the best place to start is with the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by MIchael Pollan, or its more concise but less-interesting follow-up, An Eater's Manifesto.

An equally interesting story of a family changing the way they eat is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.


If you can't borrow the books and DVD from the library or a friend, or want your own copy, here are links to Amazon.com:

A small percentage of each sale helps support this website, so if you decide to order something, thanks!

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