Except for salt and a handful of synthetic chemical food additives, most every item in the supermarket is a link in a food chain that starts with a plant, animal or creature from the sea. In the produce aisle, and even the fish and meat department, it is easy to trace the genesis of the food presented for purchase.
Not so with processed food. The industrial food chain that now feeds most of us most of the time — either at a supermarket or in a restaurant — inevitably leads to the American Corn Belt.
It comes down to food chain facts — the actual elements that comprise the industrial food chain that supplies our fast-paced world. Corn is grown on 80 million acres of U.S. land and has replaced wheat as a top government subsidy for the American farmer. The reason we grow so much corn? Because of the multiple ways it can be processed into our food.
For example, corn now feeds the steer that eventually becomes your steak. Thus, eggs, milk, cheese and yogurt now link back to corn. It also feeds the pig, the turkey, the lamb. Unbelievable as it sounds, fish, natural carnivores, are being re-engineered to tolerate corn at fish farms.
Processed food provides more manifestations of corn. Consider a chicken nugget: the chicken was fed with corn; modified corn starch holds the nugget together; corn flour is in the batter; and it is fried in corn oil.
The beverage most often served in fast-food restaurants is soda, filled with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), a highly processed corn sweetener.
Consider the following list of food additives, and you will see that corn is everywhere — in modified or unmodified starch; in glucose syrup, maltodextrin, crystalline fructose and ascorbic acid; in lecithin, dextrose, lactic acid and lysine; in maltose MSG and polyols, caramel color and xanthan gum.
Thus, corn is in soups, snacks, condiments, frozen yogurt, coffee lightener, salad dressings — even in vitamins! And you’ll find corn non-food items as well — from toothpaste and cosmetics, to trash bags and disposable diapers.
It is important to note that corn is not a vegetable. It is a grain, or a carbohydrate and, as such, corn is very high in sugar. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is too high in carbohydrates/sugar to begin with, and corn is one of the primary contributors to the rising epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
It is hard to escape from ‘The King of Corn.’ If you eat processed or fast food, be assured, you’re consuming corn in one of its many guises.
And it’s no accident that when native American Indians were introduced to corn, switching from a hunters’ diet to a corn-based diet, their bones, teeth and joints began to deteriorate.
The negative aspects of the predominance of corn in the Standard American Diet approach a litany. It is also important to understand that corn is second only to soybeans as the most genetically modified (GM) crop in the US.
GM foods, foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), were introduced in 1995, and unfortunately, no studies have yet been done with humans to show what happens when these types of foods are consumed over time.
You can’t go wrong when you eat food that actually looks like food. Avoid both processed and fast foods. Eat out minimally. If you eat meat, look for grass fed, and always avoid farmed fish. Make it a habit to read food labels thoroughly. With a little diligence you can avoid being a subject of the King of Corn.
For more (both fascinating and frightening) information on the food chains that sustain us — and a clear picture of the way Americans eat — from the source to the plate, wrapper or Big Gulp — Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a great read