The food on our supermarket shelves is really a variation on just one: corn.
Corn is in just about every non-perishable food manufactured in the United States, as well as in many perishable food items. This is not the corn kernels or cob people traditionally think of, but instead highly-processed versions of the grain (previously known as a vegetable). In food, it comes most frequently in the form of high fructose corn syrup (liquid sugar), oil, or as xanthan gum (a binding agent used not only in food but also in fracking and other instances where binding or thickening is important). Corn is also in nearly all commercially grown and processed beef, chicken, and pork. It is used for feed and therefore provides yet another entre into our food environment.
Beyond food, corn is used to create ethanol and is also being used in many common household products (tape; stamps; toothpaste; laundry detergent); paper and plastic products (disposable cups; compostable dinnerware); and alcohol, among other things. Nearly everything around us has corn in one form or another, but we know this is neither natural nor sustainable. Corn’s inundation is a result of government subsidies for corn farmers, which has led to mono cropping, or growing corn on the majority of farmed land. Mono-cropping corn desecrates our land and makes it inhospitable for other vegetables and grains to grow. It also creates a need to use the corn that is grown in unnatural ways in order to justify the amount of land and government subsidies being spent on it. Further, by mono cropping corn, our food supply is much more volatile and our food economy is at great risk. A drought can cause extreme swings in corn production and therefore affect supply and cost of all food and supplies derived from corn.
Corn, in this unnatural “supersized” form is not good for our bodies or our environment. Take a look around you—read the ingredient lists on foods and goods you purchase. If you don’t see “corn” on the label, look deeper. Corn is in everything and is manufactured by very few corporations who are designing our food systems. Public health is about doing what is natural for our individual bodies, our communities and for our environment. It is time we all took a closer look at who and what is ruling the world around us and how we can advocate for a more natural, sustainable system.
For an informative documentary on corn in the United States, see King Corn: http://www.kingcorn.net/
For more information on the mal-impacts of our current oligopolistic agricultural and food system, watch this short film: http://foodmyths.org/food-mythbusters/.