King Corn?

Jul 20, 2002

In 1987, I was crowned Cornfest King in DeKalb, Illinois, a town famous for its sweet corn and hybrid seed corn. To win the contest, I submitted an essay about the future of agriculture, about how even in space we’ll need crops grown and harvested and brought to market. Ever since, I’ve been proud of my association with corn, about my two summers working in the cornfields detasseling select rows to help in the pollination process (DeKalb native Cyndi Crawford did the same work, too). Now, though, I’m having to rethink my relationship to corn.

Michael Pollan wrote an eye-opening — or should I say kernel-popping? — piece in the New York Times yesterday about the pervasiveness of corn in the American farmland, economy and diet. After reading it, I’m ready to give up, as best I can, all the high-fructose corn syrup-sweetened drinks and candies I’ve been downing, and to start shopping only for pork and chicken and salmon fed natural diets. This hidden corn in our diets might very well be the cause of America’s obesity problem, Pollan suggests. And corn production, he writes, uses natural gas and oil, as well as billions of dollars in federal subsidies.

I love boiled sweet corn drizzled with butter and doused with salt, and I’ll no doubt bite into a few ears this summer. But I’ll think twice about its future.

Anton Zuiker

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