Lately, I’ve been feeling as if I’m surrounded by corn.
In fact, the closer I look into the products in my home and on the grocery store shelves, the more I get the feeling I’m watching the next rendition of Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn,” only this spinoff isn’t based on a religious cult. Instead, it’s a financial cult run by three major agribusinesses: Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto and Cargill.
A visit to the Corn Refiners Association website (www.corn.org) confirms that “From the toothpaste you use in the morning to the book you read at bedtime, corn plays a part in nearly every aspect of our lives.”
Really? Well, maybe it is a religious cult after all.
One of the things that fascinates me most is the fact that only about 1 percent of the corn we grow is eaten as corn. The other 99 percent works its way into our food supply in other ways, such as animal feed or sweetener, or is used for industrial purposes such as making fuel for cars.
And still, everything in your classic American meal has one thing in common – the burger, chips, soda, even the ketchup: They all depend on corn.
Well, most of the meat we eat comes in the form of corn-fed chickens, cattle and pigs.
Our milk comes from corn-fed cows.
Soda and just about anything sweet is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup.
The processed foods that fill our grocery store aisles are composed of corn syrup and corn starch.
And 80 percent of those processed foods in your standard grocery store contain genetically modified ingredients.
In the United States, 94 percent of soy, 88 percent of corn, 90 percent of canola, 95 percent of sugar beets, 25,000 acres of zucchini and yellow crook neck squash and almost all Hawaiian papaya are now genetically modified.
What bothers me is that I’ve found that most people I talk to are eating GMO – genetically modified organism – foods on a regular basis and are completely unaware of the fact. I guess they missed the press release in 2011 when Monsanto announced its plans to grow genetically modified sweet corn on 250,000 acres in the United States. The harvest from these GMO fields has accounted for 40 percent of the sweet corn market in 2012.
However, I understand it isn’t always easy to know what’s GMO and what isn’t, since the FDA doesn’t require food manufacturers to point that out on packaging like the European Union does. It’s up to us to ask.
Here’s another fascinating kernel to chew on: Right now (and I just checked), the price of a bushel of corn is about $5. Yep, a bushel is 56 pounds of corn, and with that, you can sweeten more than 400 cans of soda or feed it to livestock and produce 5.6 pounds of retail beef or 13 pounds of retail pork or 32 pounds of chicken or 28 pounds of catfish.
There are about 600-800 kernels on each ear of corn, and based on the current price of $5 per bushel, that means you get 7 cents of corn in a box of cornflakes.
Go ahead and read that again. You just bought a really lovely and expensive cardboard box (whose ink is corn-based, too). That makes a handful of agribusiness corporations that control food processing and another handful of supermarkets that dominate the retail sector very happy. Their profits over the years have increased steadily while the farmer’s share of the retail food dollar has plunged to only 19 cents per consumer dollar.
Now, it won’t make a difference for me to launch into a diatribe about free-market values and the Populist Party political system, but I will say that politically speaking, you and I can make a difference every time we pull out our wallets and vote with our food purchases.
Large corporations such as Walmart track consumer spending trends, which means the more organic products we buy from them, the more they’ll put on their shelves.
Our local farmers depend on our support, as well, so the more you buy from your neighborhood farm stand, the more variety they’ll be able to offer you in the future.
And for me, as a mother, athlete, wellness coach and citizen of the planet, the future of our health and the health of our community is what I care most about.
And that’s my 7 cents.