Americans eat about one ton of corn per person, per year. This is not the delicious sweet corn our local farms grow. This is commodity corn appetizingly called "number two" corn and is the main crop grown in our country. We primarily eat corn in the form of animal products.
Cows, ruminants that naturally eat grasses, are being unnaturally fed corn. Salmon would never eat corn in the wild, but are fed corn on salmon farms. Chickens and pigs were naturally designed for varied diets but instead are fed mainly corn. Corn is one of the main ingredients in over 4,000 products found in American homes, even toothpaste. Some processed foods like Twinkies contain over 36 forms of corn.
The corn that wasn't fed to animals went to make corn sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, lactic acid, sorbitol, corn syrup, enzymes, starches and thickeners. Thanks to the versatility of corn, our consumption of processed sweeteners has risen 25 pounds per person, since we began mass-producing the stuff in the early 1970s, according to the USDA. In spite of the surgeon general's warning of an "epidemic of obesity," we are still finding new and more fattening ways to consume corn.
Corn is also one of the most environmentally devastating crops to grow. Corn guzzles fossil fuels in the form of fertilizer, insecticides and heavy processing machinery. Each calorie of corn produced requires a calorie of fossil fuels to grow using standard farming practices. When that corn is converted to corn syrup, it requires 10 calories of fossil fuels to create 1 calorie of syrup. When corn is converted to ethanol, we get about 4 calories of fuel energy for every 3 of calories of corn, according to the USDA.
Is there any way out of this maize madness? In our country, eating is a political act. Every dollar you spend on food is casting your vote. When you pass up processed foods with all of its hidden corn and buy fresh, locally grown foods, you are helping to encourage more sustainable agriculture.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected].