J500 Media and the Environment

When it comes to corn, I’m all ears. by Kelly
March 5, 2010, 10:01 am
Filed under: J500 Week 7, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

I love corn. If you tell me we’re having corn for dinner, I’ll look at you with wide, excited eyes, clap my hands and proclaim, “I LOVE corn!” That reaction is involuntary and I really can’t control it.

Most people would react this way to say, chocolate cake. Not me. I react that way to corn. And why not? It tastes like summer and is the color of sunshine.


However, crazy corn love aside, I had no idea I was eating so much of it.  After a little Google searching, it turns out that corn is in more of my daily diet than I realized.  The instant coffee and frozen waffles with syrup I had for breakfast? The peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread with potato chips and Coke that I had for lunch? The gum I chewed afterward? The grilled chicken caesar salad I had for dinner? My toothpaste?

Corn is in all of it. Sometimes it’s a sweetener, sometimes it’s a thickening agent, or it may be the feed used to fatten livestock.  Considering the sum of its uses, we end up eating a lot of corn.  And it doesn’t stop there. We’re wearing corn, writing on corn, and we can even put corn in our cars.

To some, it may sound resourceful to use one crop for so many things. I think it’s wasteful and unnatural. We’re planting acres upon acres of corn fields so we can have  sweeter food,  fatter cows, thicker soups, and cardboard.

Don’t get tricked into applauding the diversity of uses as innovation. In order to produce so much corn,  farmers worldwide have turned to the unstable practice of monoculture farming, which is the opposite of diversity. This method of farming allows a farmer to produce a lot of one type of crop, but it depletes the soil and destroys ecosystem diversity in the process.

We’re being thrown precariously off balance by little, unassuming ears of corn. We’re consuming thousands gallons of artificial sweetener at the cost of tons upon tons of soil erosion. We’re fattening cattle with food they aren’t designed to eat, which results in sick cows and an increased likelihood of  sick people. We’re plowing under forests to plant corn.

I hate to be concerned about corn, but I am. Food should be respected as food and modern agriculture is producing more than dinner. I hate that we’re feeding livestock food they shouldn’t be eating just because it’s cheaper. Furthermore, there are too many hungry people in the world for there to be corn in my toothpaste.

When it comes to corn, we have too much of a good thing.  I may love corn, but not at the expense of sick animals and exhausted farmland.

K. Cochran

Please, be more vague by Lauren Cunningham

In my recent efforts to become environmentally-friendly, I’ve been searching the App Store on my iPhone for applications that can help me make smarter choices.

This shows a screen capture from my iPhone showing GoodGuide's rating of my Kiwi Strawberry Snapple.

So far, I’ve found GoodGuide. The app gives an overall rating of the product, not based on user ratings, but on a combined score of health, environmental and society ratings. It looks at product quality or safety, unnatural or unhealthy ingredients in the items and environmental impact of the company. It also has a feature that scans the barcode of items to get a sense of how “good” they are.

So after enjoying a Kiwi Strawberry Snapple the other day, I thought I’d check out just how “all-natural” the drink claimed to be. My new app gave the beverage a 3.9 out of 10 rating.

It also gave the drink a zero out of 10 for health, which I found alarming for a product that claimed to be “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth.” I looked at the nutrition facts, and as the label claimed, there were no artificial flavors or preservatives, but I also saw the 51 grams of sugar in the bottle and five percent juice content.

GoodGuide lists information about different aspects of products to help consumers pick the smartest choice.

GoodGuide told me the product contained high fructose corn syrup, a substance found in pretty much everything people eat today. I didn’t see this on the label, so I investigated a little further.

It seemed as though the app’s health rating hadn’t been updated. I found that Snapple recently switched from using high fructose corn syrup to real sugar. a switch that helps its “all-natural” claim.

It makes sense, considering the problems popping up with high fructose corn syrup. GoodGuide even lists high fructose corn syrup as an “ingredient of concern.”

For a juice drink that claims to be all-natural and “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth,” I wonder what Snapple means. The ingredients are recognizable, but it’s a stretch to say my kiwi strawberry drink was all-natural. If Snapple’s implying that fruits are the “best stuff on earth,” they should start putting more fruit in their drinks, instead of making it from “a blend of juices from concentrate with other natural flavors.” They offer some drinks made from 1oo percent juice, so why not make all drinks that way?

I also discovered the company has changed its labels and bottles recently, but only for appearance. GoodGuide gave Snapple a 5.2 out of 10 for its environment rating. Of the three areas the environmental ratings were comprised, two were scored at less than five out of 10: environmental management and resource management.

So as a consumer staring at a drink claiming to be natural and made with “real ingredients,” I’m not impressed. Really, Snapple has just made its ingredients recognizable, which I do appreciate. But to avoid greenwashing, I think they need to re-evaluate other aspects of the company.

GoodGuide is helping me along in my new way of thinking about food and sustainability. But really, I think it takes a more extensive reading of the labels of what I’m consuming.

— Lauren Cunningham

Buying into Food Labels by micolea

As I stroll down the aisle of my local grocery-store, my eyes are suddenly drawn to a box with an appetizing picture of caramel-coated, chocolate popcorn on it. I pick up the package and take a closer look. The box is labeled Smart Food. Intrigued, I scan the package and find in very fine print the words, “naturally flavored.” I must confess, the crafty marketing of this food product hooked me and without thinking anymore about it, I tossed the “naturally flavored” popcorn into my cart.

As I drove home, I began to ponder over what the term “natural” meant. Words like wholesome, healthy and pure came to mind.

Boy, was I in for a surprise!

As a frequent food shopper and someone who tries to buy organic food when I can, I like to consider myself a fairly health-conscious consumer. Yet, still, I am often confused by the terms on food labels. When it comes to food guidelines and standards, what does it mean when a product is labeled as natural? For the consumer, it can be extremely difficult to interpret such labels and attempt to figure out the meaning behind it.

When I see the word natural on a food label, it immediately sends a signal to my brain that this food must be healthy and sans artificial sweeteners. Little did I know, there is no standard definition for natural. Though, there is an exception: meat and poultry. The USDA has defined natural as “not containing any artificial flavorings, coloring ingredients, other artificial or synthetic ingredients or chemical preservatives and is not more than minimally processed.”

Is this definition truly ruling out all artificial additives such as high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils? Most likely, it’s not. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate use of the word natural. Which means processed foods, vegetables and fruits can contain artificial sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Even certain brands of whole grain breads have not escaped the wrath of high fructose corn syrup.

To be sure you are not eating any artificial additives, sweeteners or chemicals, be sure to read the ingredient label meticulously. We have the right, as consumers, to be choosy about what we eat. So the next time I go food shopping and see a label that reads, “all natural,” there will no longer be any confusion. I will be able to differentiate between sly marketing and the truth.

Micole Aronowitz

Glycerol in my Grocery Bag by Kelly

Ah, food. I love it.  I love seeing it, smelling it, cooking it, reading about it, shopping for it,  eating it, and sharing it.  Because I love it, I pay attention to what’s in it. A few years ago, I stopped buying anything made with high fructose corn syrup. I thought that ridding my diet of the processed sweetener may give me more energy. Recently, I decided to choose foods with familiar ingredients. Whatever it is goes right back on the shelf when I see a word like, “carrageenan.” If it’s an ingredient I can’t put in my own pantry, I try to avoid it.

Unfortunately, reading labels still doesn’t mean you know what you’re eating. Twinkie Deconstructed, by Steve Ettlinger, answers questions about processed food that a lot of people didn’t know needed to be asked. What are we eating, really?  When you look into it like Ettlinger did, you may find out that, if you are what you eat, you’re increasingly becoming drywall.

What's on your grocery list? photo credit: K.Cochran

We need to start asking questions about our food. Knowledge helps us make decisions about what we will, and will not, put in our bodies.  It’s one thing to use food as fuel, but using fuel as food? We deserve better.

Knowing what’s in our food gives us control. Will companies keep making foods that we simply won’t buy? Of course not. Take my personal boycott against high fructose corn syrup. Two years ago when I started, I was very limited in the foods I could buy. Today, I have many  more options.

It seems that enough people started avoiding high fructose corn syrup, so companies stopped using it. Imagine that effect on a larger scale. Little Kelly in Lawrence, Kansas couldn’t have had that impact on her own. People need to buy better food before companies will give us better food to eat. They will feed us what we’re willing to be fed.

Start making decisions about your food.  You can do what I did and choose one ingredient to avoid, and build on that list over time.  Go organic if you can.  Find your local farmer’s market for healthy produce grown close by.

Bottom line: food is important.  If I wanted to eat wood chips, I’d gnaw on my floorboards. But I don’t, and I can’t imagine too many people do. Do some research and make some changes. I love my food, and it’s time it loved me back.

K. Cochran

The Dinner Table: The New American Feedlot by Janie

Dinner’s ready and what’s on the table?

Corn, corn, and more corn!

That steak on your plate?  Corn bred and fed.  Ready-made rolls?  Corn produced modified starch.  Coca-cola?  High fructose corn syrup.  Bell peppers?  Coated with corn ethanol wax for shine.

Made possible by evolutionary advantage and government subsidies, these fields of sweet golden ears have risen to  God-like status on the agricultural hierarchy.  Monocultures of the stuff wave in the Midwestern wind, testaments to our conversion from dinner table to feedlot.  Its abundance have allowed it to manifest in most of the foods we eat, an addition that has made the modern diet of fast, processed, and cheap food possible.  The consequences of our corn worship, however, has lay waste to human health.

Our self-induced corn-fed daze is not unlike that of another American food icon: the cow.  Though naturally grass-eaters, cows are switched to a diet of hormones, antibiotics, and corn at a young age in order to “beef up the beef,” you might say.  Simply, cows need calories and corn is calories.  It’s only economical, to maximize calories and minimize costs, isn’t it?

We now know, in our waistlines and in the nutrition of our beef, that cheap corn calories is not a alliteration we want to use.  The low cost of corn allows for the low cost of processed foods– products targeted and affordable to those with low incomes, those who now make up a large percentage of America’s obese.  Likewise, corn-fed beef contains a more saturated fats and requires more antibiotics to combat their corn-created health problems.

We hail corn as the new king crop, the solution to an increasing population, and the answer to our fossil fuel problem.  Yet I fear that this new king may be Ozymandias himself in disguise, ready to lay waste to the environment and our health in order to build artificial monuments in his name.

Janie Chen

image credit

Children of the corn by rarab


The evil spirit in the corn field has spoken…HE WANTS YOU, TOO, MALACHI. HE WANTS YOU, TOO!

Remember the corny (haha, get it?) 1980s Stephen King horror film, “Children of the Corn?” You know, that flick on TBS you sat through that one Sunday afternoon–when you ate an entire bag of Funyuns and stayed in your pajamas all day instead of writing the paper that was due on Monday…takes place in Nebraska…creepy Man-child preacher guided by the evil spirit in the corn fields; tells him to make the kids kill all of the adults…then, with the grown-ups out of the way, the cornfield spirit unleashes all hell on the little kids themselves.

You know, the one based on actual events.

See, what the Stephen King movie failed to tell viewers is that the Corn Monster survived that episode, relocated to Washington D.C., and took over a powerful lobbying firm that kept a tight grip on both the agricultural and energy industries. And now he wants you, too, MALACHI!

Because corn (in the form of ethanol) is being pushed on us as the answer to all of our oil woes, the demand for–and thus the price of–corn has more than doubled in the last two years, from roughly $2.28/bushel to $5.60/bushel.

Corn, of course, is the most popular feed delivered to cattle, so its price has a direct hand in dairy and meat prices; in the form of high fructose corn syrup, it’s also in practically every commercial food product on the market–from fruit punches to bread.

So, the meteoric rise in corn is great if you’re a corn farmer. Not so great if you’re a single mom with several mouths to feed.

In fact, just yesterday, the Boston Globe had a big story on the surging costs of groceries–fueled (literally) by rising corn and oil prices. Funny how corn, which was supposed to help reduce our dependence on oil, has shared such a similar trajectory with its supposed nemesis. In many ways, corn is the new oil. I guess that makes it “Yellow Gold”… but somehow that doesn’t sound very dramatic…

Those who argue that corn ethanol will reduce our dependence on oil are right to some extent, but they overlook the fact that it takes a great deal of energy and pollution to grow, harvest, refine, and distribute ethanol. So, while it might curb our dependence on foreign oil, it’s not the answer if we’re truly looking for eco-friendly energy sources. Moreover, current automobiles can only stomach blends of ethanol that contain no more than 20 percent corn, so it’s not going to replace oil-refined gasoline overnight–or anytime soon for that matter.

If there’s one good thing to come from all of this, it’s the hope that the super-inflated price of corn will make it less appealing for food manufacturers to pump high fructose corn syrup into practically every single product. Maybe it will mean that cheap junk food will soon become a luxury–a purchase that can’t be made on a daily basis without some pinch to the pocketbook.

Then again, a better solution might be that the strength of corn in the marketplace makes Congress realize that we no longer need to federally subsidize farmers who choose to grow corn for ethanol. It clearly isn’t an environmentally-friendly process, it’s only a supplemental energy source at best, and over-emphasis will only make food more expensive for all of us.

Oh, by the way, remember those Funyuns you were scarfing down? Mostly corn… He wants you, too, Malachi! bwahahahahaha……


Can the Corn by jenh
March 4, 2008, 2:19 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , ,

A Biofuel corn field

I have this weird, unshakable addiction to canned tomatoes. I can eat a can a day as a tasty accompaniment to a salad or soup, but I have been known to open a can of stewed tomatoes and devour them a la carte. Canned tomatoes are my flavor and vitamin C bridge between the end of the fresh tomato season in August and the start of the new season in late June.

But corn is putting an end to my canned tomato addiction.

I found corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup in my can of tomatoes last night. Why would a can of tomatoes need that stuff? Then I read a few more labels to discover it’s in my Glaceau vitamin water, it’s in my breakfast cereal, it’s in the salad dressing I put on the salad, and it’s in the salsa I had.

A cursory Internet search will tell you that corn is used in the production or processing of 2,500 grocery store items out of 10,000. It’s used in manufacturing for things like adhesives, aluminum, antibiotics, asbestos insulation, aspirin, automobiles – and hey, we’re not even out of the A list!

One of the ways it gets into the food supply is via high fructose corn syrup. It’s strange stuff. The New York Times described the process this way: “It starts with corn kernels and takes place in a series of stainless steel vats and tubes in which a dozen different mechanical processes and chemical reactions occur — including several rounds of high-velocity spinning and the introduction of three different enzymes to incite molecular rearrangements.”

Sweeeeet, right?

A few years ago, there was an uproar over high fructose corn syrup. Rates of increasing obesity were commensurate with the increasing presence of HFCS in the food supply. The corn lobby didn’t want manufacturers to lessen demand, which relied on consumer demand, so they put up this slick, innocuous looking site to tell you “all the facts” about HFCS. You have to hunt around for the contact us page before you find out who is sponsoring the site.

Since then, the original studies about the possible relationship between HFCS and obesity have been called into question but I’m avoiding it nevertheless. No more canned tomatoes except for the ones I home can myself.

Reading labels isn’t new to me, especially for calories and fat. But the idea of thinking about them, really reading them to consider what I’m ingesting, is. The fewer the ingredients, the closer you are to eating the real food instead of a chemical cocktail meant to seem like food. I’m going to try to eat the way author Michael Pollan (check out his thoughts on corn) says to: if something has health claims on the label, question whether it’s going to be good for you. Ever see a health claim on an apple?

— Jen Humphrey