I believe corn will be our undoing. Don't get me wrong, I love corn. No summer picnic would be complete without corn on the cob. A movie is not as satisfying without popcorn. And cornbread? Nobody makes a better cornbread from scratch than I do.
Corn is all-American, about as American as you can get. But corn may ultimately be our undoing. Or to be more precise, using corn for purposes for which it was not intended may be our undoing.
First, corn is force-fed to cattle in order to fatten them quickly. A cow's digestive system is designed exclusively for grass. Corn causes them to bloat and be prone to infection. Hence, they must be given antibiotics to keep them disease-free until they are slaughtered and hormones to speed the fattening process. Skipping past the troubling issues of unnecessary hormones and antibiotics, corn-fed beef is super-high in fat content and is clogging our arteries.
The other way corn is killing us is far more insidious: high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This artificially produced super-goo, which exploded into our food supply in the 1980s, has become the sweetener of choice for the food industry, and it's everywhere. Go to your pantry and check out the labels. Soft drinks, fruit juice, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, salad dressings, ketchup, pasta sauce, mustard, hot dogs, cookies, candy, potato chips, canned soup, crackers, cake, yogurt, pudding, pancake syrup, bacon, beer, macaroni and cheese, even some bread.
Furthermore, it exists in huge amounts in many of the products we consume daily. That "healthy" fruit-flavored yogurt you get your child to eat has loads of HFSC - the equivalent of 15 teaspoons of sugar - in one little container. And that "healthy" whole-grain cereal is coated with it. As for the 16 oz. can of cola, you are ingesting the equivalent of 45 teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS. Coincidentally, obesity rates begin to skyrocket shortly after this substance was introduced into our food supply.
What's more, you'd be better off if that stuff in your soft drinks and peanut butter was genuine sugar. Sugar, bad as it is, is less harmful than HFSC, which some scientists say fails to truly satiate and therefore creates cravings as well as metabolizing more like fat than sugar. Some evidence suggests it is linked to type 2 diabetes.
The children of America are consuming huge amounts of high-fructose corn syrup. Nearly every "food" product advertised on children's TV shows contains it.
I'm making a prediction. Ten years from now, HFSC will no longer be in our food supply. It will have either been voluntarily withdrawn by the food industry, or the government - cities, states and perhaps even federal - will have banned it. The city of San Francisco recently proposed a tax on beverages containing it. Jason's Deli, a national chain with a deli at 33rd and Iowa streets, has pledged to take HFCS out of their offerings. They acknowledge it will be quite a challenge. They're already serving Dublin Dr. Pepper, sweetened with cane sugar. And Juicy Juice fruit juice is HFCS-free. Their ads on children's TV get the message across with a cartoon character doused in a disgusting sticky mess of goo.
Just as trans-fats - another substance created for the convenience and benefit of the food industry - are being phased out thanks to some gutsy cities, so, too, will be high-fructose corn syrup. It was created to find a way to use up a vast surplus of corn produced by agribusiness, and because it was cheap (due to government subsidies for corn growers and high tariffs on imported sugar) as well as convenient - it's easy to transport in tanker trucks and prolongs shelf life in food products. It found its way into many products during the fat-free craze when to compensate in taste and texture manufacturers replaced fats with HFCS. Remember how everyone got fatter eating "fat-free" food? And now HFCS is firmly entrenched in the food supply, supported by a corn lobby that comes down hard on anyone who brings up the topic. I assure you I will hear from corn lobby representatives as soon as this column hits the search engines.
I don't want it to take 10 years for high-fructose corn syrup to disappear from our food supply. We don't have that time. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are becoming epidemic in our precious young, the only generation who will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents' generation. High-fructose corn syrup is not the only thing making us fat. But it is a significant factor, and one that we can do something about.
And then there's corn ethanol : don't get me started.