King Corn

October 15, 2007 at 10:28 am (environment, movies/video/clips, politics) (, , , , )

Yesterday I attended a showing of King Corn and a Q and A session with the movie’s creators. A quick synopsis of the film:

Ian Cheney and Kurt Ellis came to a disturbing realization when they had their hair tested in a lab and found that it was mostly made of corn. Literally. They moved to Iowa, where most of the country’s corn is produced, to grow one acre of corn and attempt to track the kernels they planted on one acre of land in the mid-west to the crop’s final destination as an ingredient in almost all food products in the country and, subsequently and relatively recently, the make up of people’s bodies.

They imitated what are now conventional farming methods; they used large industrial machines, genetically modified seeds, chemicals, herbicides and the like. They yielded more of their chosen crop than has ever before been possible on equal amounts of land only to find that what they grew was inedible. The corn had to be processed heavily (with protective gear and dangerous substances) before it could be consumed. It then became corn syrup and was mixed with other additives to become one of the most prevalent ingredients in almost all packaged and fast foods in the country. These corn products also end up as roughly 60 percent of factory-farmed beef cattles’ diet. As was stated in the film, any American born in the last 30 years is likely to have only tasted corn-fed beef. Beef consumers beware…were the animals not slaughtered as punctually as planned, they’d likely die of these unnatural and life-threatening diets soon after.

The film effectively provided an understanding about the cultural context in which our current food system was allowed to take precedent. It documented the die-off of family farms at the hands of government subsidies and examined the influence of our corn-based diets on human health. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much more than this. And there was so much potential for it to do so. Environmental repercussions were all but ignored and there was no attempt to explore alternative farming practices or food policy. Of course, like every other film, the resultant product is cut from hours and hours of footage and can’t reasonably be expected to touch upon every aspect of a given issue…but given the relaxed and decidedly un-rushed feeling of this movie, I can’t help but feel that some more precise editing could have provided significantly more room for dialogue.

But, and that’s another thing: it didn’t feel like any was meant to be made. it seems like the creators of King Corn were afraid to make any firm statement about the way the corn industry works and what effects it has on the public. The subject is increasingly political and it’s absurd to act like it isn’t, especially given the conclusions that Ian and Kurt came to following their experiment. One of them said something about how now that the movie’s done, their diet is more varied in color- before, all they ate were beige foods. Coincidence? Please, say more about that. In fact, I only have a sense of what the conclusion of the project felt like to the movie-makers because of what they told the audience after the viewing, in person. The film doesn’t really make any statement about the effects of the project itself, but only implies them.

So, when the movie starts playing near where you live, see it, if only for affirmation of your belief that the way we currently produce and distribute food robs people of their communities, their local economies, their environment, their cultures, and their health. But don’t expect any answers or hints about the directions in which we now need to move politically. Don’t expect anything more (or nearly as profound and informative) as what you could learn more eloquently from Michael Pollan. Rather, recommend the movie to friends that maybe know nothing of the issue of industrial capitalist agriculture and wouldn’t prefer to read about it.



  1. Life With Buck said,

    “…their hair tested in a lab and found that it was mostly made of corn.”
    I had to read that sentence three times. That is just dumbfounding to me. The movie will never play here in El Paso, but when I can find it elsewhere, I’ll definitely want to see it.

  2. Emily said,

    Utterly disturbing, isn’t it? Blech.

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