King Corn and Other Edible Non-Food Stuffs

February 17, 2011

An ill advised 9pm americano directed me back to the couch in the wee morning hours a few nights ago. For those who aren’t familiar, an americano is espresso mixed with hot water. In my case, it was two shots of espresso. It didn’t help that I read email right before bed, and came across a list of some final changes for a website that will be launching soon. Americanos and reading email are two activities that shouldn’t happen right before bed. That’s not the point of this post, but it’s worth a mention, and gets me back to where I started up in the first sentence.

The couch.

At 1am.

If there was ever a good time to have Netflix streaming, it’s at 1am on the couch. And this early morning led me to a film that had been in my Netflix queue for a while: King Corn. This documentary shares a theme with the first few chapters of Omnivore’s Dilemma (which you should totally read). Thanks to government subsidies that help farmers turn a profit even when the crop is sold at a loss, corn is the dominant crop across the fertile lands of middle America. So dominant, in fact, that the surplus is finding it’s way into the ingredients of most processed or packaged foods you can find in the grocery store. It is most evident in the kind of foods you’ll find in the convenience store, a point made in the film as they look for anything that doesn’t contain corn in some form.

The story of how much edible non-food we eat in the US has received a lot of attention in the last few years, and it’s been one I keep returning to as well. I live in a home where I’m the only one who doesn’t have an allergy restricted diet, and we read every label. I’ve read a number of books, and seen a number of films, on the topic. I have a growing desire, and appetite, to eat actual food from naturally occurring ingredients. I’m talking about the kind of meals that require some time spent in the kitchen to prepare them in way that requires more than punching pressure sensitive circles on a microwave.

Double stufAnd it’s really hard. It’s hard because eating real food costs more than eating edible non-food that’s slid down the stainless steel insides of all matter of machinery. It costs more money, and it costs more time. And sometimes it costs habits and comforts that aren’t so easy to bid farewell — I’m looking at you Double Stuf Oreos. And I’m only talking about the cost to individuals and families. What are the greater costs, as yet undocumented, to our culture, our health care system, and the land that begs us to respect it more?

I eat more real food than I did a few years ago, and I know I spend more time preparing meals that didn’t start out in a cardboard box. But if there are patterns that are easy to fall back into (and there are, by the way), then eating non-food is one of them. A film like King Corn is a helpful reminder for me, or a good introduction for others. Just don’t watch it after 9pm while consuming caffeinated beverages. Or Fritos.

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