King Corn (2007)

“You are what you eat.”

In the documentary King Corn, two friends, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis decide to grow an acre of corn in Iowa. This decision comes as a result of their concern regarding the American diet; for the first time ever, the film notes–the life expectancy of Americans has decreased. Grasping the fact that a great deal of what we eat is a corn-based diet, Cheney and Ellis head off to Greene, Iowa, lease an acre of land and proceed to grow corn.

The film is not heavy-handed or preachy, and in fact the filmmaker Aaron Woolf while uncovering some very alarming facts about food production and diet in America, is remarkably even-handed and sympathetic to all his subjects. But the point is made that America’s farming practices: the disappearance of the family farm, the reliance on corn in the American diet, the pervasive and ubiquitous use of corn syrup, and factory farming create a alarming, ultimately disturbing state of affairs. It seems that we are–quite literally–what we eat.

Interviewees include Iowa farmers, dairy farmers and beef ranchers, and even a very elderly Earl Butz, the US Secretary of Agriculture whose policy helped shape, and is largely responsible, for the current state of affairs.

King Corn seems to be a very simple film–no high gloss, no fancy frills, and simple techniques to illustrate the startling facts and figures, but it’s a remarkably powerful film, and its seemingly simple story reveals the complicated relationships between profit, diet, obesity and diabetes. As a vegetarian, I was aware of some of the facts and figures here, but I still felt shaken by some of the film’s revelations. With the pressures to increase production, the nutrients of genetically engineered corn have dropped, and cattle who once grazed in fields of grass are now stuffed full of corn. These corn-fed cattle–who rapidly end up as various cuts of beef after 140-150 days –produce meat that has 6 times the amount of unsaturated fat (and there are clips of nasty greasy, fat-oozing hamburgers to prove the point). To quote the film: “It’s fat disguised as meat.” Cows are kept in total confinement, are fed continually, and are stuffed full of antibiotics in order to survive confinement.  This means that they’re ready to enter the food market far faster than grass-fed cows  (140-150 days compared to seven years.)

The film also explores the production and (over) use of high fructose corn syrup which is sneaked into everything–from drinks to spaghetti sauce. Perhaps not as flashy as Supersize Me, King Corn makes its points about the links in this unhealthy capitalist food chain quite thoroughly: “The mass production of corn pushes the mass production of animal production in confined operations.”


Yesterday, I saw the first PRO corn syrup propaganda ad on television….


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Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

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