Saturday, March 15, 2008

What I'm Watching: King Corn

Last weekend, we watched King Corn on video. This is a fun documentary inspired by Michael Pollan's writing. Two young guys out East with family connections back to the same farm town in Iowa want to learn more about the industrial food chain that revolves around corn (and results in cells tests showing that most of the carbon in their bodies came from corn). So they decide to go out to Iowa and grow an acre of corn (using modern industrial methods) and see what happens.

The whole film is very well put together. They don't talk down to the Iowa farmers--instead it's clear that the farmers know a lot about what it takes to grow corn and why the system works the way it does. Sadly, farmers growing industrial corn are caught in a dilemma-- a system that exists that allows them to make money growing a huge amount of corn. However, the methods harm the soil and produce a product (not a food--the corn they grow can't be eaten without first being processed) that isn't particularly healthy for the animals or people who consume it. And, though farmers were once thought of as independent souls at the heart of the progressive movement in America, the only money made by farmers is from payments directly from the government (otherwise the farmers would lose money----or, in a more sensible situation, less people would grow corn, prices would rise, and government payments to farmers could stop).

Though it's a far gentler look at the industrial food process than Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, the film does push gently at the viewer to take a hard look at the lack of logic in our current agriculture system. And it's pretty funny and fun to watch.

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