Bryan and I watched this documentary a little while ago.  It’s about two college guys, Ian and Curt, who rent one acre of land in Iowa and grow corn on it.  

It made me think that there are lots of ridiculous people in this country.

Things I learned:

1. It is not actually profitable to grow corn in America.  Ian and Curt would have lost 19 dollars on their acre. 

2. The government subsidizes corn growers.  Instead of losing 19 dollars, our heroes were paid 28 dollars, so they made a profit.  A man in the video mentioned that all the farmers he knows rely on this.  The more corn farmers grow, the more money they get from the government.  When farm subsidies were first created, farmers were paid to produce less food, to keep prices high.  A man named Earl Butts changed the policy in the 70’s to encourage growing as much food as possible. 

3. Corn subsidies will never go away.  (This was not in the movie.) Corn subsidy lobbyists are extremely passionate about keeping them alive.  Iowa is the first state to hold presidential caucuses, and so it’s really important to candidates to win in Iowa.  If you do not support corn subsidies, you will not win in Iowa.  The United States pay about $20 billion dollars per year for “farm income stabilization.” (Wikipedia.)  This doesn’t amount to much for each individual taxpayer.  Would you go to battle against passionate lobbyists who are protecting the traditional way of life in Iowa, just to save two cents on taxes?  

4. The corn grown in America is not very nutritious. Corn originated in Central America, in the reddish brown variety, and apparently it had more protein then.  When it got to Iowa, it was modified to produce a high yield, at the sacrifice of nutrition. 

5. Iowa keeps producing more and more corn.  It doesn’t fit in the traditional farmers co-op barn, and it doesn’t fit in the huge concrete silos built later; it’s now in a huge pile on the dirt.  In the movie, farmers had produced a record amount of corn the past few years.  

6. Because of this abundance, farmers have been trying to find things to do with it, so they feed their cows.  Cows don’t graze on grass anymore; cowboys don’t take them up to pasture, sheepdogs don’t nip at their heels.  Cows are penned up with hundreds of other cows, and all they do is sit there and eat.  They also produce swamps and swamps of waste. Probably because of this, they are fed 70% of the antibiotics used in America to keep them from getting each other sick.  Whereas grass-grazing cows take years to reach the market weight for slaughter, “feed lot” cows take a fraction of that time.  Which is good, because apparently the cows would have died pretty soon after anyway from ulcers from eating corn (I think this was another reason for the antibiotics… to prevent a disease that causes ulcers).  Also, their meat is more saturated fat than muscle.  (Which is super healthy to consume, I’m pretty sure.)  

7. Scientists have also experimented with corn to figure out what to do with it all. They came up with a cheap way to make high fructose corn syrup.  Ian and Curt made some at home, while we watched.  They took their corn (which was not sweet corn.  It was feed corn, so absolutely disgusting to humans.) Then they added some chemicals (which had DANGER symbols all over it), then blended the corn, added some more chemicals (with more DANGER symbols).  Maybe there’s some science/magic going on that I don’t know about, but it seems to me if you take something inedible for humans, then add chemicals that are inedible for humans, it might come out inedible. 

8. Let’s pretend it’s edible.  The movie showed a conversation with a cab driver in New York.  He said he used to drink several sodas (sweetened with high fructose corn syrup) a day.  That was when he weighed 300 pounds.  When he stopped drinking soda, he dropped down to 200 pounds.  But, he still had diabetes.  His dad had just died from diabetes, as well as his mom, grandparents, some aunts and uncles, and I think his sister.  Doesn’t sound awesome. 

So.  The government is paying farmers to grow too much corn, which is leading them to great lengths to figure out what to do with it.  They stuff it in cows and they sweeten everything with it, creating a diet for Americans very high in saturated fat and sugar.  No bueno. 

Movies like this make me feel bad.  To avoid that, I always have to decide how I will change as a result of what I learned.  But it can’t be too much change, or I will feel bad then, too.  This is what I have decided. 

Avoid beef. (We were doing this anyway.  Ground turkey was cheaper in our grocery store, so we got used to it.  At first, it was a little different.  Then I couldn’t tell a difference between beef and turkey.  Now I prefer turkey to beef.  This is not to say that turkeys are raised any more humanely, but they are better for you than beef.) 

Avoid drinking calories.  (We were doing this anyway.  Water is cheaper than soda and juice.)  Scientists in the movie said that there is something about drinking calories that is harmful.  When you eat calories, at some point your tummy says it is full.  When you drink calories, the shutoff mechanism doesn’t work, and you consume too many.  And then you get diabetes.

Think about buying free-range chicken. (Notice it is just “think about.”  Nothing too crazy here. 🙂  I know that it will be two, three, four times more expensive.  But Americans get way more protein from meat than they need.  So if you eat meat one out of three days, and beans or tofu or lentils or eggs or yogurt or cheese on the other two days, the cost will even out, you will still get enough protein, and you will be eating more healthy (both from free range chicken and plant sources of protein).

Learn about politics and get involved someday. (Notice “someday.”) There is a quote in the display in the National Archives from a woman during the founding of the United States.  She said she hated the thought of being governed while not having a voice.  It made me think about modern America… I don’t think most people have a voice in government, by their own choice.  I realized I should care that I don’t have a voice, and try to find ways to be involved.  

Anyway, watch the documentary if the topic interests you, or if you want to feel uncomfortable, or if you want to check my facts. 🙂  I’m sure I have lots of stuff wrong.