The Things We Were Never Told About Corn

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I have a confession to make. I have never been a fan of corn. I have never liked its taste or texture. I have never liked the way it looks exactly the same when it goes in as it comes out. I realize in making this confession will be considered sacrilege seeing as I live in Iowa, America's number one corn producing state...but I am sorry, I just have to get this off my chest. So I apologize in advance to my Iowan friends, it is nothing against you, I love you, but I am sorry, I just do not like corn, and especially even more now that I have been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
I am not even halfway through the book yet and already I am outraged. I have discovered that corn is in EVERYTHING we eat in one way shape or form. And I have also discovered in reading this book that the government subsidizes corn, and has a national corn reserve. The corn surplus is fed to animals that were never meant to eat corn, in order to fatten them up, and corn is broken down into things like that evil High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) that we keep hearing so much about. Did you know that MSG comes from corn? I didn't. Did you know that corn goes by over 20 different names on an ingredient list? Here are some of the names that corn goes by:
monosodium glutamate (MSG)
modified food starch
xanthan gum

And there are more, MANY more. So you are probably saying to me right now, "So what! Why should I care about corn?"
First of all, the corn that is being processed is called hybrid corn. It is not the sweet corn that we are used to buying at the grocery store and eating, that actually makes up less than a quarter of the corn crop in the United States. Secondly, many people have corn allergies and do not know it. Thirdly and most importantly, processed corn, and products such as HFCS is not actually meant to be ingested by human beings. It can actually increase uric acid in the body, which can in turn be an indicator of heart disease. Processed corn products such as HFCS also is leading to a higher incidence of obesity and diabetes in this country because it is absorbed in the liver and does not allow the pancreas to release insulin the way it normally does. It causes kidney calcification, higher incidences of Irritable Bowel Disease, and leads to higher mineral losses in the body. It can also lead to bone fragility, anemia, defects in connective tissue, infertility, heart attacks, and the list goes on. So WHY is there so much processed corn in our food? Why does the FDA allow this to be legal?
Did you know that a McDonald's chicken nugget has 38 ingredients, and 36 of those are derived from hybrid corn? Did you also know that one of the 38 ingredients is BUTANE? Yes, Butane, like lighter fluid! Why is this ok? And we are feeding all this food to our children!
The fact of the matter is, corn is cheap, cheap, cheap, and we have a surplus of it in this country. So what do we do with the surplus? We process the heck out of it!
So Michael Pollen explores why this problem has gotten so much worse in recent years. Why does our nation keep getting fatter and fatter? Why do people cook less at home and eat more processed foods and fast foods? One reason he offers is that the reason diabetes and obesity have become so much more prevalent further down the socio-economic scale you go is that the industrial food chain has made energy dense food the cheapest foods to buy. This means that when you go to the grocery store, $1 will buy you 1200 calories of processed foods like potato chips and cookies, whereas it will only buy you 250 calories of whole foods like carrots. If you look at beverages, $1 will buy you 870 calories of soda, but only 170 calories of REAL fruit juice. It really does make economic sense that people with limited income would choose to spend their money on the cheapest calories, meaning they can buy more for less money...even if those calories are EMPTY calories and are of detriment to their health. The other reason this has become an epidemic in this country is that we have been convinced that foods made in a lab are better for us than foods that come from nature. We eat butter in my house, not margarine. Margarine is made from - yep, that's right! Corn! It has chemicals in it that you wouldn't believe and definitely would never think to ingest! Food that comes from nature and natural sources were what our ancestors ate. Food made in a lab by food scientists is definitely getting us further and further away from the whole and natural foods we should be eating. Oh, and one more note on this, foods that say "low fat" and "fat free" really mean "less good stuff" and "more bad stuff" because these items have all the nutrients taken out of them and they are replaced with artificial sweeteners and additives that come from, yep, right again! Corn!
But here's the deal people, even those of us who are not on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum are feeding these things to our children and to ourselves! More and more children are being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, something that was only seen in adults a decade or two ago! I have made it my mission to feed my family whole foods. This does not necessarily mean Organic...Michael Pollan even has a bone to pick with the Organic food industry. It means feeding myself and my family the best possible food that I can, and that doesn't have to be expensive or hard.
I challenge all of you to do the same! I would love to hear about the changes that everyone is making to accomplish this goal. The only way to make change in our country as far as the food industry goes, is to show the food industry that this is not what we want anymore! We have to make small changes to make big ones. I would also highly recommend reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It has been a real eye opener for me and has reinforced what I am already doing in my home to keep my family healthy.
And with that, until next time, happy cooking!


Heather said...

I told you you would be outraged when you read that. I was angry for quite sometime after reading it. It is such an enlightening book and I applaud Michael Pollan for sharing the truth about what we are eating.

frenchieliza said...

I know, I think the more I read the more outraged I get. I just don't understand how the government can have a hand in this obesity epidemic. It makes me crazy! I think we as a people need to stand up and say that we aren't having this anymore and start writing letters. Unfortunately it is in so much of our food that it is hard to just say, "I won't buy it anymore." But we can stop buying things that contain HFCS as a start.

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