Those clever King Corn guys are running a contest: who can make the best statement about food politics using clips from King Corn and whatever. The winner gets $1,000 and fame. The deadline is May 30, and here’s how it works.
Currently browsing posts about: Corn
So what’s going on with food prices? In the last year, milk is up 17%, dried beans 17%, cheese 15%, rice and pasta 13%, bread 12%–and eggs 25%. The last time I bought a quart of milk at my local anything-goes corner store, it was $2.40. Why? For eggs, it’s clear: growing corn for ethanol drives up corn prices and chicken feed. For eggs and everything else we have the perfect storm: increased demand (from China), decreased supply (ethanol), and higher fuel prices. I’m sure there are other reasons too, but these will do for a start. This is why food systems matter.
Earl Butz, former Secretary of Agriculture in the Nixon administration, died last week at the age of 98. He had a long and varied career, but in the context of food systems he is famous for having revolutionized U.S. agricultural policy. Instead of paying farmers not to produce food, he encouraged farmers to produce as much food as possible. They did, and indeed produced so much corn that new uses had to be found for it. Voila! High fructose corn syrup! The movie, King Corn, includes an interview with Mr. Butz. He was proud of having so greatly increased U.S. food production. Indeed, the number of calories in the U.S. food supply increased from about 3,200 per day in the mid-1970s to the present 3,900 per day, with all the consequences that I discuss in Food Politics and in What to Eat. His passing marks the end of an era.
I will end the year with the big issue of 2007: high fructose corn syrup. It is basically the same as sugar (sucrose). The “high fructose” is misleading. Sucrose is glucose and fructose (50/50). High fructose corn syrup is glucose and fructose (45/55 or 55/42). So whether you eat cane sugar, organic cane sugar, table sugar, or high fructose corn syrup, you are eating the same thing–glucose and fructose. Yes, fructose is metabolized differently, but most foods do not contain just fructose. The big issues are quantity and calories. Eating too much sugar (or starch, for that matter) is much more of a problem when there is lots of it and lots of calories from sugars or anything else. So we are back to moderation, alas. Enjoy your dessert and happy new year!
Yesterday’s New York Times carried an excellent article about the fuss in Europe over genetically modified (GM) corn. Europe has managed to stave off the introduction of GM crops but is under huge pressure to accept them from the World Trade Organization and the U.S. The argument: Because GM crops are safe for people and the environment (a scientific issue), trade rules must apply. But, as the article quotes Benedikt Haerlin of Save Our Seeds, “Science is being utterly abused by all sides for nonscientific purposes…It would be helpful if all sides could be frank about their social, political, and economic agendas.” This precise point is the theme of my book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (UC Press, 2004), which despite its title is about the politics of food safety and biotechnology. Its conclusion: even if GM foods are safe, they are not necessarily acceptable.