Friday, February 15, 2013

Movie Review: King Corn

The Peabody-winning documentary from Mosaic Films Incorporated, King Corn, part of 2013 Pennypack Sustainability Series, came out in 2007.  The film opens with college friends, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis rushing down a hall to have their hair analyzed in an Isotope geochemistry lab.  The result of the analysis is that most of the carbon that makes the two men up is has its origin in corn. 

How can that be?  With that question in mind and inspiration from Michael Pollan they head to Greene, Iowa to grow an acre of corn with the intent of following it into the food system.  They almost instantly have to face their misconceptions about farming.  First, family farms are nearly a thing of the past, farming corn is an industrialized process.  Second, planting corn is a loosing proposition without subsidies, if it weren't for the $28 the government pays per acre of corn they'd have lost money. Thirdly and possibly most shocking to them, this corn isn't "food" its raw material.

Though the season we are shown how little the corn farmer does personally. A quote form Ian "Planting 31,000 seeds was not exactly a hands-on experience. But then again, it only took us 18 minutes."">With time to kill they research the steps to come.  Speaking with the manager at the grain elevator they learn their corn is a drop in the bucket and will be next to impossible to follow.  They are left with the probabilities to work with. 30% is for uses other then food, 5% would be made in to sweeteners and the remaining would be used to feed cattle.  

They then head off to Colorado to learn about cattle farming and again have to face their misconceptions. They are faced with the distasteful practices of the concentrated animal feedlots, that cows eat corn not grass.  CAFs could not exist without cheep corn and antibiotics.  Later they attempt to learn about making high fructose corn syrup.  Only one person in manufacturing, out of all that they contacted, would see them and then they couldn't tour the plant.  They then attempted to make HFCS at home, it involved caustic chemicals and in the end was disgusting. 

They began to conclude that corn was a bad idea, that there may just be to much corn in the world and they found corn farmers, scientists, and others who agreed with them. So in the end, they converted their corn field to grass and played baseball.

Having lived in a farming community some of their revelations were not new to me. It was a good documentary in that it was entertaining and it will inspire viewers to question what they eat and how it got to their plate.  But the Omnivores Dilemma was much more informative and showed alternatives to this view on farming.  Either way inspiring questions is always the first step in changing the status quo and I feel this will movie will aid in that.

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