King Corn

August 18, 2008 | By | Comments (6)

When was the last time you ate corn? 

If you had asked me yesterday, I would have mentioned the grilled cobs at a recent barbecue or last  month’s  theater-popcorn binge during three hours of Batman.

After watching the documentary King Corn last night,  my answer would have to be more thoughtful, because apparently I’ve eaten a lot more corn, a lot more recently, than I realized.   Corn, it seems, is in our food chain and in our foodstuffs more than I ever imagined.   

King Corn tells the story of college friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, who heard that their generation might be the first in America to have a shorter life span than the one before them. Eyeing nutrition as a probable cause, Ian and Curt examine their own diets. An isotopic hair analysis reveals that over 50% of the filmakers’ diet is derived from corn.

This discovery leads the pair to Iowa where in 2005 they grow one acre of corn and follow it from planting through distribution, attempting to learn what goes into the corn, where the corn goes, and how it ends up back on their plates and in their hair.

Their journey is told through footage of their adventure (including  a hilarious attempt to make homemade high-fructose corn syrup ), interviews with the farmers that assist them, and other field experts, including nutrition luminary Walter Willett, MD , and writer Michael Pollan. A must-see for anyone interested in what goes in their food, King Corn is engaging, entertaining and thought provoking. It’s already out on DVD –  check your local library or video outlet.


  1. Heather

    I watched this movie last night.Did you all happen to see the bonus materials? The ‘lecture’ it was humorous and clever set design. I can’t believe these guys took this journey. You don’t find people you can quit everything and produce a movie about growing and distributing corn. Ian and Curt were featured on Fresh Air when this movie first came out. They said that when they tried to document the factories where the corn syrup was being made, they were not allow in the building. Now that’s a thing that makes you go “humm.”

    August 20, 2008 at 7:09 pm
  2. Erika

    I saw this documentary a few months ago and it has made me think ever since. I can’t say that I satisfactorily drew any conclusions from it other than try to avoid corn-fed beef products. That was the most eye-opening part of the documentary to me- Seeing the feed lots and all those cows eating corn simply to fatten up was bothersome.
    And all those toxic chemicals that go into making HFCS? Yikes.

    August 19, 2008 at 1:28 pm
  3. SaB

    I loved the way this documentary was shot. When I watched it last night, I felt as though I was being taken on a informational journey with the guys instead of being preached to about my habits, like many of these types of films do. I agree, King Corn hightened my interest in the amount of corn products and byproducts that I comsume on a daily basis. It hits on major topics and gives a look at the farming industy that most people would never see. Good film, a must see for anyone that enjoys food. Thanks for telling me about it.

    August 19, 2008 at 1:21 pm
  4. Kathryn

    Thanks for your comment. The film brings up this very point – and details how the corn eaten by the groups you mention had an extremely different nutritional profile to what is grown today – namely it had higher protein and lower starch.
    Any conclusions about corn and the film are yours to make – I would genuinely enjoy hearing them after you have seen it. KC

    August 19, 2008 at 10:41 am
  5. Corn H.

    Many semi-agrarian Indian tribes had a nutritionally complete diet growing just corn, squash and legumes, augmented by occasional fish, berries, and other gathered items. A diet rich in corn isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless, of course, it’s corn syrup we’re talking about. Is it?

    August 19, 2008 at 10:23 am
  6. Joe Hoffman

    I like the way Pollan phrases it: we’ve become corn-Koalas. His book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, is one of the best things I’ve read about food in a long time.

    August 19, 2008 at 7:31 am

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