Children Of The Corn

A Corn Field In Alsace, France

Take any country road in Alsace and to the left and to the right, there it is! The blur of green leaves and yellowed corn is everywhere!

Corn is second only to the grape in its dominance of the agricultural food chain in my corner of north eastern France.

Over the past five decades, corn has emerged as a global ‘super-food,’ a relatively cheap and versatile cash crop that has made itself essential to food manufacturing and by extension, to the western dietary regime.

Corn is ubiquitous. It provides the high fructose syrup that fuels the cola drink industry and the global soda fountain that is drenching the planet.

It fattens our farm animals. It can be turned into ethanol and made into plastic.

But I have come to bury this corn empire, not praise it!

COVID-19 has focussed global attention on the devastating consequences of the virus but once a vaccine emerges, it is likely that health activists will again return their gaze to obesity and diabetes, the West’s twin serial killers, threatening an increasing proportion of our young and middle-aged citizens.

Corn syrup is at the heart of an obesity pandemic which will ask ever more serious questions of our health services.

The food industry knows this only too well but has a financial incentive not to care. The demand for quarterly profits means that manufacturers are under intense pressure to create products that pander to our own worst cravings for sugar, fat and salt .

Yes, there will be a blaze of publicity for ‘light’ products. Industry cheer-leaders will trumpet the switch to new, healthier ingredients.

Meanwhile, the iron law of business will prevail — why change a recipe that works. The worship of ‘King Corn’ is likely to continue because though the consumer is so much better informed, understands the risks, knows verbatim the ins and outs of the ethical questions involved and complains that improvements must be made, s/he keeps right on eating

Profits roll in even as corn syrup plays its part in killing us.

And should we the people rise up and confront the industry over its cynicism, the industry will sigh, tell us to put down our pitchforks and remind us that it was our panic over refined sugar that made the rush to corn syrup so smooth.

So, what do we do now?

Shaming fat people is both cruel and dangerous. The food manufacturing industry wriggles free of its responsibilities when the debate about the quality and production of modern food and the critique of the agriculture system that sustains it is reduced to a spat between the advocates of personal discipline and the already-derided, socially-maligned gluttons and sugar addicts.

Some governments have at last woken up to the threat of the corn syrup crisis and its impact on public health and are considering measures to raise soft-drink prices, remove vending machines from school premises and ban soda advertising on television.

A soft drinks tax, already endorsed by the World Health Organisation is long overdue but when it is introduced, it will surely be too little, too late. Subsidised corn sugar is now fundamental to food processing and our addiction to it shows little sign of waning.

Opinion surveys report that most of us wish to be slimmer and healthier but when the rubber hits the road, we supersize our soft-drinks rather than savour a quinoa salad.

The obesity-diabetes-cancer death trinity is the result of lifestyle changes and an evolution in the science and techniques of food production.

If we are in this mess, it is because the scale of our own sugar addiction is matched by the get-rich-quick mentality of food capitalism.

Father, journalist, podcaster, digital strategist, photographer, videographer, social media and intercultural trainer, musician, swimmer and eternally hopeful.

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Father, journalist, podcaster, digital strategist, photographer, videographer, social media and intercultural trainer, musician, swimmer and eternally hopeful.

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