By Asha Kreiling
Corn is ubiquitous in the American food system. Take a gander at the ingredients label of a few food items on the shelves in a regular grocery store, and you will find that an astonishing number of them will list at least one corn-derived ingredient. High fructose corn syrup, corn starch, corn meal, and corn oil are all obvious offenders, but a host of other obscurely named ingredients such as maltodextrin, sorbitol, modified food starch and xanthan gum are also common corn-derived ingredients of processed food. If you consume meat, there’s a good chance that the cow/chicken/pig/fish on your plate was fed corn, too.
Large-scale farmers receive billions of tax payer dollars every year from U.S. farm bill mandated subsidies. Corn is the number one crop for subsidy payments, reaping several billions more than cotton, soybeans, and wheat. Thus, with this fantastic cash incentive, corn farmers grow as much as possible and, not surprisingly, in the U.S. more corn is produced than any other crop. This makes corn incredibly cheap, and we are left trying to figure out different ways to use this abundant golden grain.
Why is this a problem?
• The majority of corn is grown as a monocrop in large scale operations. These farmers heavily depend on chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
• Around 90% of corn is genetically modified.
• Corn has become the primary component of feed for factory farm livestock, including cows and fish, which are not physiologically designed to consume grains of any sort. Cheap feed makes cheap meat; thus, meat consumption has increased significantly in recent decades. Even if you aren’t directly chomping on corn on the cob, you are consuming a corn-fed piece of steak, corn-fed chicken eggs, corn-fed cow milk, cheese, etc.
• Corn has been manipulated into so many unrecognizable forms that have become common components of processed food and fast food. Again, cheap, copious corn makes cheap junk food; and cheap junk food makes it very easy to become unhealthy and overweight. As Michael Pollan says, “The chicken nugget — including feed for the chicken, fillers, binders, coating, and dipping sauce — is all corn. The french fries are made from potatoes, but odds are they’re fried in corn oil, the source of 50% of their calories. Even the salads at McDonald’s are full of high-fructose corn syrup and thickeners made from corn.” Read more here: http://www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/we-are-what-we-eat
• The bottom line is that corn is in everything, and the average American consumes too much of it.
Cut back on corn to reduce health risks associated with genetically modified food and pesticide-laden crops, and to reduce overconsumption of highly processed ingredients. Become familiar with common corn-derived ingredients. Read ingredient labels.
Here are some commonly corn-derived ingredients to know:
- Ascorbic Acid
- Baking Powder
- Citric Acid
- Xanthan Gum
Visit these sites for more common corn-derived ingredients: