Corn: It's What's for Dinner (and Lunch, and Breakfast)


I once met a woman with corn allergies and she lamented how hard it was to find food she could eat outside her own kitchen. You wouldn’t know it just by looking, but corn is pervasive in so many foods comprising the Standard American Diet. Pervasive meaning…corn pretty much is the diet.

Most sodas contain high fructose corn syrup, many foods are fried in corn oil, and even the cows and chickens in your burgers were most likely fed on corn.

A published study using stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen was used to find out the origin of the molecules found in the fries, chicken and hamburgers from three major fast food chains. And what did they find? That almost every single item they tested could trace its origin back to corn.

What’s so bad about corn, anyway? The movie King Corn and food expert Michael Pollan have plenty to say about it. It’s a highly subsidized crop, often genetically modified, that severely depletes the soil and requires heavy use of fertilizers to grow, thus polluting local waterways and destroying local ecosystems. Today’s corn doesn’t resemble the original strains that sustained the first people of the Americas, and doesn’t have nearly the same nutritional value either. Besides, cows stomachs were never made to eat corn, but grass.

Knowing more about the origins of common foods in our diet is a first step towards building a healthier world.

Image: sambeckwith