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The title's all in caps for a reason - you'll just have to bear with me to find that reason out.  It's complicated.

My daughter tells this story of moving to North Carolina, inviting friends over for dinner, accepting an offer to help "peel" the corn, watching leaves being literally peeled back one by one, before picking up an ear and rapidly shucking it only to be met with gasps of astonishment and amazed "how did you DO that?" questions.

My son tells this story of being involved in a day-long firefight in Afghanistan in a cornfield and the dissonance caused in his mind by having terrorists fire at him from the cover of high corn that evoked for him happy childhood memories of travelling through miles and miles of cornfields to visit his grandparents on the other side of Illinois.

At the base of both of these stories is a sort of heritage you end up with if you grow up in the cornbelt, even if nobody in your family farms; it's ever-present enough that you acquire corn stories.  And these two definitely grew up in the cornbelt - the only place that can possibly be cornier than their home state of Illinois is Iowa, where I'm headed next if you continue reading.

I was in Iowa a few years ago, working in Mason City, right next door to Greene, and I kept seeing a dvd titled "King Corn" in all the shop windows, so eventually I asked someone what that was about.

The response was something like "Funniest. Thing. Ever.  These two city guys from back east somewhere came here and farmed an acre of corn over in Greene - one single acre.  It's a documentary about that.  You've got to see it."

Being from the cornbelt myself, that did sound fairly amusing, so when I got home I checked out a copy from my library and settled in to discover that it really was about two guys from a city in the east farming an acre of corn...and, as it turned out, a whole lot more.

Corn has been all around me since I moved into the cornbelt at the tender age of ten.  You really can't travel anywhere in the area without passing fields of corn - even travelling due east into Chicago from out here on its outskirts you still pass some fields of it.  But until I saw this film I had no clue how much of every American's diet is corn.

Sure most people probably get that cattle is fed on corn, chickens are fed on corn, etc, but did you know there is corn in yeast?  Baking soda?  Every single last component off your kid's Happy Meal?

pretty much anything sweetened
pretty much any kind of baked good (see yeast and baking soda above)
coatings of medications and vitamins
artificial sweeteners
artificial flavorings
bleached flour
iodized salt
a bunch of other stuff you would easily recognize plus
a long list of that stuff you might only recognize as a cryptic ingredient you see on labels, such as "lecithin" and "calcium stearate"

Oh, hell, the list is ridiculously long, just go look for yourself.

Turns out the guys in the video only went to farm an acre of corn to begin with because they had their hair tested to determine the main ingredient in their diet and discovered, to their shock, that it was corn, then discovered, to their further shock, that corn is the main ingredient in virtually every American's diet.  

Thus the title "King Corn."

Now the video goes on to explain a lot about corn you probably do not want to know, but really, really should know, from the way we have genetically modified the stuff to be sweet but of far less nutritional value than its ancestor corn, to the very scary kitchen experiment in producing corn syrup.  Um, we really should eat a lot less corn, and we really should grow a lot more stuff than corn produced on large industrial farms that are killing our water supply and damaging our environment in other significant ways.  I learned that much from this dvd, and I highly recommend this dvd.  But that's not really what this post is about, because that is the demand side of the equation and this post is about the supply side of the equation.

Since the supply side of our national corn addiction is looking a bit grim, we may find ourselves going cold turkey soon.  Or at least paying a lot more money for what we have gotten into the habit of thinking of as "food."

Did you know corn futures are waaaayyyy up?  Sound good?  It is for the farmers who still have viable corn crops, but their number is dwindling.  For those of us who eat a corn-based diet (i.e. almost all of us in the U.S. - see above) it means higher food prices down the line, potentially much higher food prices.

Last week I wrote a post about the silent creeping natural disaster that is the drought covering much of our nation, and today I am writing about the drought's impact on corn.  Or as I put it in the title CORN.  Because a drought threatening to wipe out the crop that would show up in an analysis of almost every American's diet as their main source of food is kind of a BIG DEAL.

Or, as the Bismarck Tribune puts it:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture report said Monday that 30 percent of the corn in the 18 states that produce most of the nation’s crop is now considered in poor or very poor condition. A week ago, it was 22 percent.

Indiana and Illinois have been particularly hard hit. The USDA said 61 percent of Indiana’s corn is now rated poor or very poor, compared to 50 percent last week. In Illinois, 48 percent of the corn is rated as poor or very poor, compared to 33 percent a week ago.

Of course if the weather breaks and we get some rain where we need it...
Crops will need rain to have much chance of rebounding, and forecasts looked mostly dry for the next 10 days from the central U.S. Plains across Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

"Considering the forecast over the next couple of weeks, I think those areas are going to become bigger issues, especially central and eastern Iowa," said Kyle Tapley, an agricultural meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather/CropCAST.

"The areas that are too far gone across the southeastern Midwest will get some rains," he added. "But where they could get some improvement, across the central and western Midwest, it doesn't look they are going to get much rain."

If you want a preview of what it would be like to try to live without corn, by all means take the corn-free diet challenge for a week, or just go read about people who did.  I'm betting most will find it too difficult and will just be paying more for food next year.  It only remains to be seen how much more.

Like a lot of other people I know here in Illinois I am keeping my eye on the every-Thursday a.m. update to the drought monitor, the ten-day forcast, and, of course, the CORN.

cross-posted to The Progressive Fox

Originally posted to Downtowner on Thu Jul 12, 2012 at 06:19 AM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Community Spotlight.

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