Stuffing their cornholes.You might think twice about devouring another McDonald's Quarter Pounder after watching Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis' eye-opening documentary, King Corn. The film won Best Documentary at the 2007 Bend Film festival and will screen again on April 22 at the Tower Theatre as part of the Indie Reels series. Co-producer Curt Ellis will be on hand for discussion.
Best friends Ian and Curt moved from Boston to Greene, Iowa after college to find out where their food really comes from. The film follows them as they plant an acre of corn in the heartland and attempt to navigate modern agribusiness. Remarkably, both Ian and Curt's great-grandfathers were from Greene, and the two also trace their family histories throughout the story. They assimilate into the community and learn how to drive tractors and drink Budweiser. On the way, we-along with the filmmakers-learn everything from what a grain elevator is, to the fact that corn is present in about 60% of the American diet.
Although Ian and Curt just present the facts, without injecting emotion or exaggeration, the film manages to build from a simple tale of raising a modest crop of corn to an expose of the food industry and government spending. The mega-monoculture of corn in all of its manifestations is alarming. And though over 30% of corn is used to make ethanol, this film focuses on corn's impact on the American diet and the future of farming in the heartland.
On a trip to a local grocery store, we learn that nearly every processed food contains a corn byproduct, either as high fructose syrup, oil or starch. When eating at fast food restaurants, Ian and Curt find out that their favorite food, the hamburger, contains mostly fat from corn-fed cattle; soda is mostly corn syrup, and french fries get half their calories from corn or soy oil. Their investigations also reveal that beef from corn-fed cattle contains about eight times as much fat as that from grass-fed. However, grass-fed beef is more expensive, and America depends on cheap food. There are some other interesting facts: hair is a "recorder of diet," and, when analyzed, shows that most of the carbon contained in our bodies originated in corn; every farm under a government program would be in the red without the current subsidies; and farms have to be huge or face getting squeezed out.
All of this points not only to corn as the major ingredient in our diets, contributing to record high obesity and diabetes, but also to the end of the "family farm."
Directed by Aaron Woolf. Tower Theater, April 22, 7pm. Tickets available at the box office M-F, 10:30am-4:30pm, or online at www.towertheater.org. General Admission: $10/$7 with student ID.