Issue 30

The Great Corn Debate

The Great Corn Debate

If you’ve ever read anything by Michael Pollan, you might exhibit a certain nervousness when talking about corn. (Thou shalt try to eat no corn?) But let’s just come out and admit it: as you strolled through the farmers market last year at this time, lasciviously eying those golden ears of buttery, sweet temptation, piled high in all their glory, right out in the open for all to indulge, guilty thoughts nagged, but you caved and hastily loaded your bags full. (I really tried, Mr. Pollan.)

You love sweet corn. I love sweet corn. We all love sweet corn. And hiding your addiction from the fellow corn-conscious only promotes lonely picnicking.

Sweet corn is fodder for summertime memories in the Midwest, bringing to mind a freckled, smiling six-year-old child who just had a visit from the Tooth Fairy, chomping down on an oversized cob as he wipes the melted butter from his chin. So what’s the big deal? What’s with all the corny concern?

It’s a heated debate. According to Pollan, corn itself isn’t really a bad guy: cultures have been subsisting on the tasty treat for generations. The dilemma lies with the overwhelming amount of corn in our diets. And to really be fair, sweet corn causes less arguments than field corn, but at this time of year in Nebraska, when corn is everywhere, it’s important to take a look at the issues while we have corn on the brain.

At an average picnic, corn is present in the syrupy soft drinks and ketchup, as fillers in hot dogs, and indirectly comes to us in the form of protein in our burgers, because a good amount of the corn grown in the U.S. lands is fed to the animals we eat. (Pass the corn chips, too, please.) A varied diet is best for supreme health and the inclusion of so much corn in our diets has many health experts concerned that we are not receiving all of the nutrients needed, because we rely so much on one source of food for nourishment. Producing all of this corn is also problematic, says Pollan, because soil needs to be manipulated in a way that is beneficial for high corn production, but may cause imbalances in the environment. In addition, the fossil fuels used to produce, ship and store corn is consumed in, what he considers, staggering amounts.

However, proponents of current corn production suggest that inexpensive, locally-produced, corn-based biofuels could effectively reduce our dependency on foreign oil and provide a sustainable solution to our fossil fuel consumption. And doesn’t that corn-fed burger of yours mentioned earlier taste delicious alongside those sweet kernels?

While the debate forges on, what’s a hungry picnicker to do? I say to relax. Enjoy the summer sunshine with sweet corn, but eat it with conscience. Buy corn from a local grower. This will offer you a fresher product, help your local economy, and reduce the amount of fossil fuels attached to your meal. Eat it in season when it tastes the best and is the most nutritious. And become informed about the corn debate and the uses of corn, because an informed consumer can only help the right answer emerge. In other words, fellow Corn Lovers, perhaps it should be: thou shalt eat no out-of-season, faraway corn without first doing your homework.

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