Monocrops are so corny (Day 278)…

corn

Anyone who’s read The Omnivore’s Dilemma — or seen the documentary King Corn, based on the first part of Michael Pollan’s book — knows that maize is in everything. Along with soy and wheat, it’s one of the biggest monocrops out there, primarily used as livestock feed.

While there’s nothing wrong with corn itself, the type of corn grown in order to make high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch, ethanol and so on — usually something like Monsanto’s genetically modified and potentially toxic MON863 — is a definite problem.

In its many forms, this crappy corn can be a sweetener, a binder, a humectant, an anti-caking agent and a thickener. In fact, to quote Wikipedia‘s entry on the subject, it can even be used for making highly flammable and explosive jellies (who knew?).

But aside from the health issues surrounding it, monocrops like Zea Mays are just not cool from an environmental standpoint. They lead to the depletion of nutrients in the soil, weeds and infestations, which in turn lead to higher doses of harmful pesticides.

As Pollan said in an interview not so long ago, corn is overproduced, “and [The U.S. government] subsidizes this overproduction. We structure the subsidies to make corn very, very cheap, which encourages farmers to plant more and more to make the same amount of money. The argument is that it helps us compete internationally [but] the great beneficiaries are the processors that are using corn domestically. We’re subsidizing obesity. We’re subsidizing the food-safety problems associated with feedlot beef. It’s an absolutely irrational system … The USDA is not thinking about public health, the USDA is thinking about getting rid of corn.”

Well, now I’m thinking about getting rid of corn — or rather, not buying it in the first place. Other than the nutritious, organic variety, there’ll be no more of this monocrop in my pantry, in my personal care products or in anything I purchase.

Comic courtesy of the fantabulous Miss Natalie Dee

22 Responses to Monocrops are so corny (Day 278)…

  1. Please keep us posted on your progress on this. I’ve found HFCS in the most unusual products and I find corn all over the place!

  2. Erin says:

    Wow. BIG change. I have thought about this too, but get discouraged EVERY TIME I look at any prepackaged food in my pantry. The corn seems to be everywhere and, aside from making everything from scratch myself, I just don’t know how to entirely avoid it. Would love to hear an update on this subject to see how you’re dealing with it and what alternatives you find. (cuz, you know, I’m too lazy to do the research myself 😉

    Thanks!

  3. Teartaye says:

    I just want to wish you good luck! I actually did an appreciative whistle at the end of this. Please do keep us posted!

  4. Best headline so far. You’re too cute… and corny.

  5. Shawn says:

    This will be a tough one, but trying is a million times better than not trying at all. Corn, or the many derivatives, seem to be hidden in everything these days. Kind of like when you eat a powdered doughnut and that powder seems to get everywhere. Then you’re paranoid for the next hour that you have powder on your forehead or who knows where.

    I have Pollan’s book on my soon to read shelf. I am looking forward to it!

  6. Rhett says:

    I’m somewhat curious as to how you will actually implement this. Yes, you can sometimes spot a few classic processed corn products if you read a label close enough, but let’s say you buy a beauty product where ethanol was used in the processing of it. How are you going to know where that ethanol was sourced? Canada is more “dairy country” than Florida, but unless I missed the part where you went vegan (which is possible), are you getting all your dairy from a producer you know isn’t feeding any corn to the livestock? A number of goods you purchase have no labeling at all, so it’s impossible to know if they contain corn derivatives.

    I certainly can imagine a number of strategies to implement this change, but many of them are extreme. What are your thoughts on ensuring that no product you use has a corn derivative in it?

  7. cynthia1770 says:

    Hi,
    HFCS has invaded our food supply. Courtesy of the Corn Refiners Assoc., go to http://www.corn.org/NSFC2206.pdg. P29-30 lists all the foods and products that contain HFCS. Just a few surprises: bacon, soups, cough syrups! StopHFCS.com lists foods that are HFCS-free. They welcome additions and suggestions. If you live near a large city, try European products. They don’t allow GMO foods and use very little HFCS (<3%). In Europe Coke is made with real sugar (infact all of Coca-cola’s international
    products use sugar) and still served in 6 oz bottles. In the US its found in
    gargantuan bottles and we guzzle liters. Do you ever get the feeling that Big
    Food, Mighty Beverage, and Big would rather have us fat and sick?

  8. blah says:

    I feel bad for people who are allergic to corn – it’s everywhere!

    If you want to try something really hard, try giving up products that have formaldehyde in them. My grandma has some crazy allergies (formaldehyde and nickel, along with others). Needless to say, she had to get rid of all her polyester clothing (and you know how old people love them some polyester). It’s really in everything. I ordered her special shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion because all major products that you put on your skin contain some form or derivative of the substance. Gross!

  9. Sherry says:

    darn…I was just about to switch to corn based cat litter…lol…

  10. Seeds in the Wind says:

    Vanessa: thanks for posting on this. I have read Pollan’s book. I recommend Richard Manning’s book Against the Grain. (Pollan references Manning’s book quite a bit.) Another excellent book to consider is An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard. Read the last few chapters. Howard wrote in the 1920s and 1930s. He understood pretty well the world we are living in now. The chemical fertilizer industry was just getting going then.

    Your friend over at the Healthy Cookie has some excellent writing on this issue.

  11. gettinggreen says:

    Oh darn, Sherry, I totally forgot about the corn-based cat litter I use… shoot, OK well that’s gonna have to be the exception to the rule. And Rhett, I think when it comes to something like whether or not the all-natural blush I just bought in a recyclable container includes ethanol in the manufacturing process, that’ll have to be overlooked really. I’m more concerned about consuming corn directly, like pumping ethanol into a rental car or drinking pop with HFCS in it. Dairy-wise, though, I’m still eating it as long as it’s organic, although to be honest I really don’t eat much dairy anyway. And if I do, I’ll make sure the cows are grass-fed… it’s pretty easy to trace the farm where a carton of organic milk comes from if it’s Canadian. Anyway, I’ll definitely keep all of you updated on how this one goes… won’t be easy, I’m sure!

  12. sue says:

    Good luck to you! I’m on a no HFCS diet, and have been since I got pregnant with my daughter 4 years ago and got serious about reading labels. It’s in the craziest places! One of the most puzzling was canned diced tomatoes (why? WHY?) I haven’t tried to rid myself of corn entirely, though – I feel like shopping with two children in tow and reading labels for HFCS, total sugar grams, fiber, whole grain content, organic status, and salt content (plus looking to minimize long chemical words in the ingredient list) is enough to make my head spin. Don’t know if I could take looking to determine whether something has corn or soy lecithin or other such minutiae. I suppose since you’re buying mainly local organic produce it won’t be as much of an issue for you, but the preserving wax sprayed on most produce is corn based. Plus a lot of the packaging, at least in the US. And don’t forget that the good biodegradable packing peanuts are corn (for all your Christmas mailing needs). And I think the compostable silverware and plates are corn as well. But those are an instance where using corn is preferable to using plastic or styrofoam. Maybe your rule should be more like – “I won’t eat corn in place of real food” instead of “I won’t buy corn” because it’s going to be tough!

    At least you’re in Canada (as opposed to the US)- you’ll have a fighting chance! (any chance there’s corn in those plastic milk bags?) Sorry to sound pessimistic. I just know how hard it is to try this one. But you don’t have sleep deprived mommy brain, so maybe you’ll be able to better parse the information out there.

    One owrd of adivce – keep reading labels of your favorite brands. I’ve found that they change recipes very often. I’ll find a “safe” brand and 6 months later, they’ve put HFCS in it. ARGH!

  13. Aimeé says:

    @cynthia1770 – thanks for the links! Very informative.
    I’ve read Omnivore’s Dilemma, drug my hubbie to King Corn (he loved it, as did I), and am currently reading “Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats” by Steve Ettlinger – he goes down the ingredients lists and investigated where each one comes from – it’s scary but fascinating. The chapter on corn sweeteners goes into depth about how HFCS is made.
    Good luck, Vanessa, I’m rooting for you!

  14. Sherry says:

    This is sounding like a hard one…lol…can’t wait to see the updates…love your blog so much…thanks for being a great source of info and such an inspiration! 🙂

  15. Molly says:

    This is a huge undertaking. Good luck!

  16. Greenpa says:

    Non-corn kitty litter: http://www.swheatscoop.com/

    Made from wheat, not corn. Our cat is indoor-outdoor, so we don’t use it; I’m aware because I’ve met the maker; they seem like nice folks. Not sure you can actually GET it, of course!

    Something that would be useful (and a lot of work for you but what the heck…) You could document the COST of this change to you. Every time you turn away from corny product A, and buy non-corn product B – write down the prices and sizes of both (a spread-sheet would be a huge help). Eventually you would come up with a REAL NUMBER – that rare but highly prized critter- to let folks know the reality. How much does it cost you to be so green?

    That would be really worth knowing- and, incidentally – worth a regular article or two for your boss at the paper, beyond the blogosphere.

  17. Jennie says:

    Don’t forget the harm that monocrops do to the bee population. This style of industrialized agriculture is suspected to be part of the reason why the bees are dying. And without bees we’re in trouble.

  18. Natalie says:

    Going without corn/soy isn’t impossible… my parents and siblings do because of the potential risks of genetically modified foods. Here in the US, unlike in the European Union, which has mandatory labeling for foods containing GMO, there isn’t any way to tell if the corn/soy/cotton seed oil in the product on your grocery’s shelves is GMO or not, so they just avoid all of them. It takes creative cooking, lots of cooking from scratch, intensive label reading… and having garden produce stashed away doesn’t hurt. But it isn’t impossible!

    Personally, I avoid corn/soy/cottonseed, but I do buy things with those ingredients sometimes because often they’re cheaper, or there isn’t any other choice for that product (like: corn chips).

  19. mark says:

    Just to second natalie above, its not impossible. In fact, I’d say its pretty darn easy to go without corn products. If one’s diet consists of processed food, then yeah, best of luck pulling that off. But if one is making one’s own food from veggies, fruits, grains, nuts, etc (not wrapped in plastic or tin or glass), then its extremely easy. For those processed items, the health food store is much much less likely to have corn products (particularly HFCS) than the mainstream store. For example, mainstream juices do, while health food juices don’t.

  20. Jeff says:

    My nickname has been scary corn for a long while now. However, that now takes on a whole new meaning.

  21. jackets says:

    Have a very happy new year 🙂

  22. I will not do thongs, despite the fact that LB has them in my
    size. I do love the Cacique underwear.

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