We headed over to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art to watch the documentary King Corn and hear a panel discussion. If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s books or articles on food, then you are already aware of the issues presented in this film, as the project was inspired by Pollan. Nevertheless, the information is delivered through the experiences of two recent college grads growing one acre of corn in Iowa while trying to find out why corn is pervasive in the American diet. I liked the non-judgmental nature of these two; they really sought to understand the process, not berate anyone for the messed up stature of corn in the food chain.
Corn has been getting some bad press lately: its subsidies perpetuate agribusiness, not family farms; it feeds the factory meat system; it is turned into a sweetener that may hasten metabolic syndrome; and the push for corn ethanol is effecting beer and meat prices, water quality, and biodiversity. Some of that is explored (though, not too deeply) in the documentary, but one comment a farmer made really struck me. He talked about corn with reverence; like it was oxygen—integral to everyday life without much thought about it. His comment humanized the issues; just like with most things, the more you learn, the more complicated they become. The farmers in the film acknowledged the massive amounts of corn grown in Iowa is not for human consumption; it’s hard, dry, and doesn’t taste good. No, this corn is for animal feed or for processing into corn syrup. So, farmers are enticed by subsidies–for it’s the government payments that pay the bills, not the market value of the crops–to grow corn, but they can’t actually eat any of it.
King Corn is thought-provoking, sometimes funny (the guys attempt to make corn syrup), and sometimes quite sad (feed lots and homestead auctions). It doesn’t answer any questions, and that’s fine. It might lead you to your own conclusions without being preachy or arrogant. It is showing again tonight at the OKCMOA and will be on OETA‘s Independent Lens on April 15th at 9:30 p.m.