Do you support the Illinois corn industry when you visit the grocery?
No, not the succulent ears of sweet corn or frozen bags of golden nuggets. Good ole row-crop corn, the kind that will cover an estimated 12.2 million acres this year of Illinois.
For convenience, it might be helpful to think of this commodity as “korn.”
Row-crop korn is not grown as a whole food but as a carrier of byproducts that are injected into the retail market.
That’s why you won’t find a bag of “Plow and Fork” golden sunshine today at the grocery. Try the bird seed shop, and please don’t eat it.
However, every time you shop for groceries you probably buy Illinois korn. Check ingredient lists on processed foods.
Let’s say you’ve had enough corn and decide to clean your palate with a stick of Juicy Fruit. As you chew, savor the korn syrup, dextrose and glycerol. This has led to an awkward alter-food, corn-free chewing gum.
This is like discovering gum-free corn bread.
I must point out one more detail only as a matter of principle: Juicy Fruit is fruit-free.
OK, I need a drink to mull this over. But I discover Korn Inc. has partnered with American wine, whiskey, gin, beer and ale.
You might encounter korn most frequently in syrup form, the liquid sugar drizzled into thousands of foods. Its amazing health benefits equal that of granulated table sugar.
Let’s turn to Illinois’ second biggest cash crop, soybeans. Even though 9.4 million acres of Illinois will be devoted to soybeans this summer, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be eating any.
Soybeans are first processed into soybean oil and soybean meal. The meal feeds livestock.
In fact, the majority of Illinois corn and soybeans feed livestock. We “eat” much korn and soybeans through dairy, poultry, beef and pork.
Soybeans have a leg-up over korn. Soybean oil is on par with olive oil for health.
But we have farmed our way into a corner. Illinois has 55,500 square miles of land. We devote three of every four square miles, or 78 percent, to growing two plants, corn and soybeans.
Illinois farmers produce wheat and most of it yields flour and wheat germ. But only 2 percent of Illinois land is devoted to wheat.
Each Illinois farmer feeds 156 people, according to the Department of Agriculture. This might be true but it ignores what the farmer feeds us.
With increasing awareness to eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods and animal fat, it’s discouraging that our investment of land into two supposed food plants doesn’t provide this service.
Instead it gives us meat and dairy, high fructose korn syrup, soybean and corn oil, starch, alcohols for beverages, industry and fuel, soy-diesel, medicines, ink, paint, cosmetics, plastics, adhesives, toothpaste, medications and laundry starch.
And we invest much more than our land. The system is propped up by our taxes. We paid farmers most of their $16 billion in crop insurance because of last year’s drought.
Our investment of billions of dollars and billions of acres doesn’t guarantee us anything, not even food.
A new federal Farm Bill being drafted calls for cuts to food stamps. It also would cut subsidy payments but would counter this by expanding crop insurance.
Modern farming has strayed from its supposed role as “bread basket to the world.” It seems less about providing food and more about feeding an industry that sustains itself at the public trough.
Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977 or firstname.lastname@example.org.