Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Trouble with Corn

Up until recently, I'd never given much thought to corn. Sure, in summertime I'll eat fresh corn on the cob any night of the week. But the sweet corn of which I speak seems to have fallen out of favor with big-time growers. Other than the small-scale farms, most corn-producers are growing a completely different variety of corn because it is what garners the most money for them. The corn they grow is not fit for human consumption. It is made into feed for animals which will later become our meat and fish, it is made into ethanol which is in our gas, and it is made into food additives like high fructose corn syrup, which I'm learning is in practically everything we eat today. And the worst is killing us.

I recently began reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which opened my eyes to the way the food industry works. Pollan devotes the entire first chapter to corn, which at first baffled me. Then I read how most of what lines the shelves of our supermarkets can be traced back to corn, in some form. Read the label of almost any processed food and you'll find high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn flour, corn oil, and the list goes on and on. There are other things that are derived from corn too, like colorings, leavenings, and preservatives. It is close to impossible to get away from corn if you eat ANY food that is processed in some way.
So why is this so terrible? Basically, our corn crop has become engineered so that it has lost all its nutritional value. Instead, it is processed to become something that adds empty calories and fat to foods, compromising our health, our waistlines, and the quality of our food. Independent Lens, a series on PBS, ran an excellent documentary on this very topic. "King Corn" follows two recent college grads who set out to grow an acre of corn in the Iowa corn belt, and follow it from seed to the shelves of the grocery store. I would highly recommend setting your DVR to record this program (it aired at 2:00am in my market---you have to wonder what was behind that decision). It is an excellent look at this industry, with scientists, food experts, and even Michael Pollan discussing how what was once a simple crop has turned into something completely different.
In an era where Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic (it used to be called "adult onset diabetes", but so many children are now being diagnosed that they had to change the name), you have to point to the foods we eat. High fructose corn syrup has made its way into just about everything we eat, and we now see how it and other corn-based additives are wreaking havoc on our bodies. We know about the link between increased sugar intake and Type 2 diabetes, and I'm certain that in years to come, there will also be a direct link to the increases in several types of cancer.

I'll leave the scientific explanations to Dr. Pollan and the experts interviewed in "King Corn", but as a mother, a cook, and a person interested in my family's health, I urge you to reconsider the way you eat. I'm certainly the last person to tell you to go "cold turkey" on anything. But I think by simply being AWARE of this issue, perhaps you'll read a few more food labels, think twice before heading to the drive-thru for dinner, and cut back on consumption of sugary drinks like soda. I promise that if you read Michael Pollan's book or watch "King Corn" you'll change the way you think, eat, and live. And as hard as it may be to swallow----this is a good thing for all of us.

Grill-Steamed Corn on the Cob
Serves 6

I love using my grill for everything in the warmer weather, but I don't care for the texture of corn when cooked directly over a flame. By enclosing the corn in little foil packets stuffed with ice, the corn gently steams, giving it the texture and flavor of boiled corn on the cob, without dirtying a pot.

6 ears of corn on the cob, shucked
6 12x12 inch square of tin foil

3 cups crushed ice

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat.

Place one ear of corn and 1/2 cup of crushed ice on a square of foil. Crimp the edges closed, leaving room around the corn but sealing completely so no steam can escape. Repeat with remaining ears of corn/foil/ice.
Place each packet, seam side up, directly on the grill grates and cook for approximately 20 minutes, or until desired doneness has been achieved.

1 comment:

mom said...

So excited you're reading it -- if anyone is a natural match for that book - it's YOU!