King Corn   December 13th, 2010

The documentary movieĀ King Corn is a study of how processed corn enters the food system and where it ends up. It was even-handed and thought-provoking and approached the situation from an interesting perspective.

College graduates Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis move from Boston to Iowa, the center of the Corn Belt, to investigate the question. The documentary has a nice personal feel. Where other filmmakers could fall into predictable archetypes of the smart-assed liberal youths pitted against the conservative small-town farmers, there was thankfully none of that. The documentarians were earnest and friendly and they were welcomed by the community. It also helped that both Ian and Curt had family roots from three generations ago which came from the town they settled in, so they were able to add a personal side to the story as they connected with distant relatives and examined how their great grandfathers had farmed the land.

The two of them rented an acre of land to plant and tend a corn crop and the film followed them for a year, from planting to harvest. During that time they interviewed farmers and towns people to get a good picture of everyone involved in the corn market, from those growing it, to the distributors and consumers, from factories making high-fructose corn syrup to big cattle feed yards. The film goes over changes in farm subsidies and economics which have lead to bigger farms owned by fewer families, and the downsides of corn-fed beef and corn syrup as used in processed food.

However, the documentary remains mostly neutral, also showing how food has become cheaper and more plentiful. Processed food is not as healthy, but it also allows Americans to get more for their budgets. Like anything it’s a complex issue, a story of unintended consequences and high-fructose corn syrup is a genie that will not go back into the bottle. The film does not offer any answers on what to do with the chain of corn in the current food supply. At the same time it presents the issues in a straight-forward and even-handed way, keeping the discussion civil and refraining from political rants. That tone, and the personalized feel of the documentary make it a movie worth checking out.