Have we had a conversation yet where I talk your ear off about corn?
No? You may regret admitting so.
Ever since I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” in 2008, I’ve had a thing against corn. I believe that growing so much corn reduces homegrown agricultural diversity and harms the soil and ecosystem in which large scale corn producers draw their bounty.
The proliferation of corn into the American diet has been consistent, harmful, and (most recently) not that sneaky.
At first, American supermarkets were all about variety and heralding the accomplishments of the burgeoning food science industry. This cereal has vitamins!
The food science industry has become so successful, actually, that it is now able to give us such things as Splenda with Fiber and Lucky Charms that are apparently good sources of Vitamin D and Calcium.
We’re starting to look at these products with confusion and concern. I’m telling you, I’ve seen a lot of folks squinting at the spines of cracker boxes in the grocery.
Another of the industry’s interesting feats from the last couple decades is finding creative and varied ways of taking an annual surplus of American corn and turning it into an increasing problem with American obesity.
You may have heard of high fructose corn syrup; how it’s not good for you; how it’s creeping into our all food. Crazy thing is – those two statements are true and becoming more true each year. I remember looking at food labels in 2008. Corn byproducts and corn syrup made some surprising appearances back then.
But lately, I’ve found out that there’s corn syrup in pickles. And baby formula. My pet peeve with corn domination has morphed into an all-out angst about the whole situation.
To me, the first step is stop buying so much processed food and start voting with my dollar. This is another “philosophy” I’ve picked up over the years, one in which I recognize the significance of my food purchases and choose to spend my dollar on ventures I support (like local farmers, etc.).
Let’s take a look at my pantry and see how we’re doing, shall we?
Marshmallow: Perfect with peanut butter. What are the ingredients? Corn syrup, sugar, dried egg white, vanillin.
Corn syrup is listed first so that means it takes up the most space in this plastic tub. Maybe, just maybe, if the last ingredient would have been vanilla instead of vanillin (which sounds downright sinister to me), I would be able to take this corn syrup confection with a grain of salt. But, no. I don’t support vanillins.
Vegetarian Baked Beans: The culprit here? Not corn syrup. The ingredients are: prepared beans, water, brown sugar, tomato paste, salt, corn and apple cider vinegar, modified corn starch, onion powder, spice and natural flavorings. My problems with the ingredients are: why do you need corn vinegar in there? I’ve never even heard of vinegar distilled from corn; also, why can’t you ever just tell us what the natural flavorings are? Is it because it’s some secret recipe? Or are you just using bits of dust and piffle from the kitchen counter in the lab that sort of smell like roasted chicken?
I have so many questions. One of the greatest things about eating homecooked food (rather than processed) is, if you didn’t make it yourself, you can ask the cook how it was made and they’ll likely give you the details. It’s that easy. Also, I’ve never heard a chef say “natural flavorings.” That should be an indicator right there, right?
Those items were the first two that I grabbed in my pantry and I’m already in a tizzy. Voting with my dollar is painful and complicated, but every time I hand over my hard-earned cash to a local farmer that gets his living from growing good, fresh food – I feel good about it. Paying a few bucks apiece for boxes of random corn products never really sets the soul in my stomach to shining.
Thankfully, I have a few good items in the pantry as well: local organic Maine potatoes, whole wheat pastry flour, molasses. Staple foods. Old-fashioned building blocks for cooking and baking.
I hope to win this particular battle against the Corn in Everything Movement. Every time I go to the grocery store, I try to make better and better choices. I read the labels. I research what certain ingredients are if I don’t know them offhand. Stuff like marshmallow and mac ‘n cheese still end up in the pantry, but I’m aware of them now. I understand that I purchase them as a matter of convenience rather than in the interest of my health.
Glancing over the brightly colored boxes and packets, I’m pretty impressed with the sheer abundance of color and ‘pop.’ It’s too bad though, isn’t it, that these boxes and packs, these jugs and these cartons, can’t ever keep up with the color of real food: that particular snowpea shade of green, the gorgeous orange of pumpkins, the deep purple of aubergine.