Thanksgiving Video Interview: King Corn

by Michael Broadbent

Recently, I was ordered by my commander to watch a video about sustainability with one of the hapless fellows I connived into being my friend (let’s codename him “Sam”, because that’s his name). We decided to watch King Corn. Out of the videos we had to choose from, it was one of the more interesting and less depressing. I mean, CORN, right? Who doesn’t love corn?

We both agreed, after watching it, that too much corn and today’s corn industry are “bad”.
Alright, that’s my blog! See you all next week!

In all seriousness, the film did raise some pretty serious questions. Though it had a lot to do with sustainability, it had more to do with economic sustainability than environmental sustainability. With more and more corn produced every year, demand is simply not going to keep up. With the cost of producing corn already outweighing any profit made from selling it, the government will have to invest more and more to continue to encourage corn farmers to keep farming.

What stuck out to “Sam” the most was, apparently, the very idea that our two intrepid protagonists decided to go through with growing a single acre of corn in Iowa in the first place. “Sam” has a lot of experience with gardening and farming, having worked on the Westport town farm, and the move struck him as simultaneously too large and too small. It seemed ridiculous to him to buy land in Iowa, but even more ridiculous to rent land and then only rent a single acre.

I focused my questions into a razor sharp point to delve into “Sam’s” true feelings on the issue. He described the amount of corn being produced as “staggering”. He found it unsettling how all the townspeople in the movie were okay with giving up their livelihood in the name of efficiency, noting how it was inevitable that all smaller farms would get pushed out or bought out by larger corporations.

I then asked him what kinds of things he already knew, because that’s what the assignment told me to ask him, and he told me that he actually didn’t know all that much about corn. I was surprised, because corn seemed like exactly the kind of dumb thing in which we’d be interested. After some thought, we decided that the main thing in the film we “already knew” was the prominence of corn syrup in processed foods. That stuff is seriously EVERYWHERE.

Following this, I asked “Sam” about the “American Dream”, because I am a slave to the guidelines of the assignment. We had a little bit of trouble connecting the film to the American Dream at first, although we agreed it was definitely related in an abstract way. Upon some thought, “Sam” decided that the movie depicted the American Dream as “all-or-nothing, grab what you can”. Even the government focuses on overabundance and want over need. This sounded like it was smarter than whatever dumb thing I’d be able to come up with, so I agreed.

The main issue with people in our generation discussing the American Dream is that it’s extremely rare that we hear it ever discussed unironically. As you know, the economy has been in pretty bad shape for the last… seven years or so. When we hear about the American Dream, it is as a joke (“Sittin’ around all day at my computer, truly the American Dream”) or as a harsh criticism (Death of a Salesman comes to mind). Sure, the idea of working hard and being able to attain everything you want in life sounds good, even to us jaded millennials, but the “American Dream” just doesn’t have the same connotations in our minds that it does in older generations.

As instructed, I asked “Sam” why he thought that the media wasn’t doing more reporting on this situation, and we both agreed it was because there really wasn’t much to say about it. The situation is basically unchanging. You can only do so many stories about how “We really use a lot of corn syrup, you guys!” before everyone gets bored and watches a report on a guy who robbed a bank with a cactus. We decided it wasn’t because of any malice on the part of the media – they weren’t actively trying to HIDE any of this. The issue was that a static situation doesn’t make for very interesting news.

Lastly, I asked “Sam” the most important question: What should we do in response to the “challenge” the film poses? He said that he wasn’t sure there was much we really could do – the bulk of the problem is rooted in the industry, and those outside the industry don’t really have much say in any of this. We decided that the best thing we could do was try to eat less corn syrup. It is bad for us, after all.

So, those are the lessons we learned. Eat less processed foods, appreciate corn, and don’t pursue unsustainable economic structures in a vain attempt to overpower demand and cost with supply.

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