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4.3 out of 5 stars
King Corn
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163 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2010
King Corn tells the truth. No one in my area wants to rent a farm with farm buildings. Farm management experts at [...] advise tearing down most, if not all, buildings. At one time there were neighboring 'ghost farmsteads' with trees, orchards, but no mailboxes. Most of those remnants are now gone.

I've burned down all my wooden buildings, except for the 'century house'. I'm 75. When I'm gone someone else can raze that.

The impoverishment and de-humanizing of Iowa is deliberate government policy, the opposite of some European countries. Our present system does work well for huge agricultural supply and commodity conglomerates.

High tarrifs on imported cane sugar exacerbate the problem. The goal is to keep Americans eating inferior corn sugar products at protected prices.

It takes a lifetime of on-farm experience to successfully operate a viable 'sustainable agriculture' farm. Such expertise is dying or dead. Iowans raise 'export kids' to find careers in other states.

The DVD 'King Corn' tells the true story on many levels. The rationale for providing much food at low cost is deeply flawed and unsustainable, but highly appealing to the 'sound bite' crowd. Food that is truly 'good for you' may cost twice as much in stores and four times as much in restaurants. Are you ready, willing and able to pay for good quality rather than poor quantity?
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191 of 200 people found the following review helpful
King Corn is kind of like Super Size Me's little brother. It traces the pervasive influence of corn on modern America, including the obesity epidemic and the fact that Iowa is growing trillions of bushels of *non-edible* corn to continue receiving lucrative government subsidies. College buddies Ian and Curt, both from the east coast, discover that they both had distant relatives from the same small town of Greene, Iowa. Ian and Curt decide to go to Iowa and plant one acre of corn, following it through its lifecycle, including where it goes after the harvest.

The film starts off slowly as the reasons for the trip are explained. The prerequisite talking heads introduce some scary factoids about how Americans are literally made of corn; if you do a hair analysis, it's like a diet diary, and the vast majority of the American diet (corn-fed beef, fast foods and processed foods) contains corn derivatives. Much of the corn we ingest is in the guise of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a cheaper alternative to sugar that is produced via a scary chemical conversion involving several toxic acids. HFCS has been directly linked to the current obesity crisis and its impact on Type II Diabetes (the body processes HFCS differently from table sugar). Prior to the 1970s, hardly any company used HFCS due to its high cost. But after then-Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz did away with the old New Deal market control policies in favor of rapid expansion in 1973, there was a constant surplus of cheap (and non-edible) corn, fueling the rapid expansion of the corn syrup industry. Here's a quick test: walk into any convenience store and count how many items contain corn, specifically corn syrup. The list includes obvious choices like soda and candy, but you'll also find HFCS in deli meats, breads, ketchup, pickle relish, spaghetti sauce, and cough syrup. Oh yes, and one main variety of corn grown in Iowa (Liberty) is genetically modified, as is at least one ingredient in HFCS manufacturing.

Corn production geared towards ethanol is briefly mentioned, but the majority of the focus in King Corn is on the impact of non-edible corn on the nation's food supply. In this respect, it's kind of a gentler version of Supersize Me; there's no shock value for the most part. Also mentioned is the disastrous consequence of converting cattle from grazing animals to force-fed confined ones. Cattle normally forage for a plant-based diet, but it is far more profitable to bring them up to market weight by forcing them to stand still and eat continuously. In addition, the acids present in corn cause deadly ulcers for the cows, who are slaughtered before developing acidosis. The end result is that 70% of the antibiotics in the US are used on livestock (antibiotics combat both the acidosis and the infections resulting from confinement). Literally everything at McDonald's contains corn: your hamburger is corn-fed, the bun contains HFCS, your soda contains HFCS, the French fries are fried in corn (or soybean) oil, and your ketchup and pickle contains HFCS. Ditto for most vending machine foods, frozen dinners, and anything you don't make from scratch. It's extremely difficult to escape buying foods containing corn, since a variety of pseudonyms are used, including baking powder, caramel color, dextrose, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, stearic acid, and vanilla, making it a nightmare for anyone with corn allergies.

Perhaps the most effective element is that of nostalgia. Ian and Curt also take time to find their long-lost relatives in Greene, and to reflect on the rapid changes in our recently agrarian society that have forced farmers to maintain massive farms harvesting non-edible corn. In other words, the farmer can't even feed himself with what he's growing. Without the hefty government subsidies, such large-scale corn operations would be out of business. They interview various farmers and ranchers who are disgusted with the system, but who have little real choice (one farmer says flatly, "We're growing crap!"). We're shown the evolution of farming equipment and of the family farm itself as a quaint reminder of the past; there are nostalgic shots of Main Street and hometown parades, quiet diners and local bars.

Ian and Curt's visual style is playful; the charts and graphs are hand-drawn, interspersed with stop-motion plastic farm toys to get the point across (and the dancing corn on the map of the US was great, too). The quirky soundtrack is a standout as well. DVD extras include some outtakes, a music video, bios, and some great 1950s-style educational clips. King Corn is a thought-provoking look at the old adage "You are what you eat," and boy, it's scary.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2008
Whether you are well versed in the ways of the industrial food chain or just beginning to learn about it, King Corn is an entertaining film that delivers a lot of information. 2 friends plant an acre of corn, giving the viewer insight on the entire process. There are many other subjects touched upon, including the far reaching impacts of conventional agriculture, the disappearance of family farms, the economic impact of corn on small town America. This film would be a great starting point for people just learning about the current state of the food system, or the film the well versed person might lend to their less than knowledgeable friends. Much of the truth in The Omnivore's Dilemma delivered by 2 nice guys, Fischer Price stop-motion animation included.
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46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2008
This documentary film is a sort of prequel to Fast Food Nation, and does for film what Michael Pollan has done in his two books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Best friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis relocate from the east coast to Greene, Iowa (population 1,015) to grow an acre of corn and then follow its fortunes after harvest. Planting an acre of 31,000 genetically modified kernels takes eighteen minutes. Fertilizers, sprays, water and time will yield about 200 bushels or 10,000 pounds of corn. That's why there are literal mountains of corn in Iowa. But none of it is edible, and was ever intended to be, until it is artificially processed. Over half of the crop goes to feed cattle, another third goes for ethanol and exports, and then a significant minority of it goes to make high fructose corn syrup and similar sweeteners that you'll find on virtually every label of processed food. In short, this is corn that is not really food. Cheney and Ellis netted a loss of $19.92 on their acre of corn, but that's before massive government subsidies put them in the black. Not even the farmers in this film were happy about agribusiness as usual, but that's the story of corn to date.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2008
This interesting film illustrates what happens when food becomes more of a vehicle for making money than for feeding people. Most of the corn we grow in our 'breadbasket' is inedible for humans, and is used as feedgrain for cows (I wonder how much the cows like it as well).
In addition to documenting their farming experiment, the filmmakers visited a massive cattle feedlot in Colorado. It brought to mind another movie that explores our meat industry Fast Food Nation. As the meat industry, like the cigarette industry, increases their global marketing, ever increasing amounts of grain are being used to feed cattle; along with creating fuels. Amazingly, some crops are being genetically modified to produce pharmaceuticals Transgenic Plants: A Production System for Industrial and Pharmaceutical Proteins.
With growing food crises around the world, one wonders when we'll reach a tipping point and decide to create a food system that serves people instead of serving the interests of executives at Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks and Trials of Archer Daniels Midland, the Supermarket to the World. Thinkers like Frances Moore Lappe have long argued that the real issue behind a lack of food security is not a lack of food, but rather a lack of democracy World Hunger: Twelve Myths. We need to dethrone 'Kings' of corn and many other commodities and put decision making power into the hands of civil society, as Vandana Shiva has advocated for so eloquently Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace. See some of Shiva's presentations on YouTube, she's a modern-day Gandhi.

A couple other resources to help us create a sustainable, organic, biodiverse, and localized food system:
Good Growing: Why Organic Farming Works (Our Sustainable Future)
Micro Eco-Farming: Prospering from Backyard to Small Acreage in Partnership with the Earth
Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, And Fair
Mother Earth News
How to Save the World
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
For those who were shocked and amazed by the workings of the food industry in the documentary Food, Inc. There is another little known film that came out in 2006 that serves as a sort of compendium project. King Corn documents a year in the life of two Bostonians who lease an acre of land in Iowa to grow a crop of corn.

Ironically, the college chums, a couple of likeable fellows with an affinity for whiffle-ball and fast food, both had a great grandfather from the same county in Iowa. So once the two find a landowner to lease them the property and a farmer to help them plant their crop, they start to explore not only their familial roots, but the roots of the corn industry. As the corn grows, so does their search, bringing them to some truly eye-opening realizations about the US food industry.

Though a lot of the information has been touched on in films like Food, Inc. and Super Size Me as well as books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, King Corn delivers it from a different perspective. By telling the story from a would-be farmer's perspective, the filmmakers are just as amazed as we are when they learn firsthand some of the inner workings of the agricultural industry. From the realization that US farmers are paid primarily through government subsidies since they often actually lose money on their crops to the fact that the majority of corn grown in Iowa is so genetically altered that it is not suitable to be eaten, even for those who have heard this information before, the film delivers it in such a compelling way that it seems fresh and consistently alarming.

The filmmakers deliver an evenhanded expose of the corn industry that doesn't seem as scathing as so many documentaries of late have. Nevertheless, by the end, when they actually have to take their harvest to market, you can really feel their heartbreak as they sell their prize crop with no idea where it will be going or what it will be used for. Will it be one of the 20,000 acres of corn it takes just to sweeten the sodas consumed in Brooklyn, NY in one year? Will it be used to quickly fatten up cattle? Or will it be used in one of the thousands of other food products made primarily of corn?

The film points out that we now spend less of our income on food than any generation in history, and fewer of us are needed to produce that food. However, considering that we are sacrificing so much of the nutritional value to keep costs down in a society with an explosion of problems like obesity and obesity, we have to wonder if we shouldn't reconsider our food budget. As one interviewee says of the government agricultural subsidies, "We subsidize the Happy Meals, but we don't subsidize the healthy ones." And yet so many of the farmers in the film insisted that if the American people demanded healthy food, they would be glad to grow it, but the current schism of quickly grown, high yield, low nutrition agriculture is going to be hard to break from. Nevertheless, considering that the impetus for the film was the realization that for the first time in history, this generation's life expectancy is lower than the generation before, our diets need to become a higher priority.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2010
King Corn is fascinating, funny, and filled with solid research.

A grass fed calf takes 5 years to reach slaughter weight.

A calf fed GMO corn takes 15 months to reach slaughter weight. However, if they don't slaughter the calf at 15 months, it will keel over dead at 18 months because bovines are designed to eat grass.

One can of soda a day, with high fructose corn syrup, doubles your risk for diabetes. Because people are getting hip to the dangers of HFCS, high fructose corn syrup, HFCS is being rebranded as "Corn Sugar." Really, though, HFCS by any name is toxic.

Don't get me started on diet soda aka Aspartame, soon to be rebranded as "Amino Sweet." Google Aspartame + "Donald Rumsfeld," Or, "the history of aspartame." It's a dirty business. Aspartame is implicated in Alzheimer's Disease, diabetes, leukemia, and a whole lot more.

Back to King Corn. This is one of the most important movies I have ever seen. I would like everyone to see it.

Amazing info in this very funny movie. Hard to combine funny with facts, but they succeed. I am buying a copy to show friends. I first saw it in a college class. It also played at the Maui Film Festival. Bravo!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2009
This film is a must see for anyone interested not only in food
production and food policy in the United States, but also what ailes
(sp?) us as a nation. The US government, and the agricultural industry
has unfortunately created a system that is out of whack. While we spend
less than at any time on food, we are spending more and more on
health-care (the one point I wish the film had made more directly).
This film should be seen by all Americans. I saw another comment that
quiblbed with the particulars in the film. The film is not a doctoral
thesis, it is a piece of art trying to raise awareness. I also thought
the device of the two filmmakers staking out an acre of corn and
following it through the year as a spine to the story was quite
wonderful, as well as the animations that they did with a still camera.
As far as I know you can also get the film to screen in your community
from the film's website. I highly recommend it - would be great food
for thought.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2009
I just read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and then stumbled upon this DVD at the library. Michael Pollan is actually in the movie and if you've read the book you will like how the movie dovetails nicely with his writing. It still manages to be homey and entertaining while teaching you that corn is the basis for our food industry and why this is problematic. A few things you will learn:

1) Corn is in EVERTHING we eat, from our soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup to our meat as almost all the animals we eat are corn-fed. Corn fed animals are not natural, cows don't have the digestive tracts to process corn, they are meant to eat grass. A corn fed diet must be supplemented with antibiotics to keep the cows alive as corn eventually kills them. According to the movie, 70% of antibiotics in the US are fed to animals grown for human consumption.

2) In the last several decades self-sufficient family farms have gone the way of the dinosaur because the best way for a farmer to eek out a living is to grow Corn on every square inch of land thanks to our unsustainable agricultural policies.

3) Corn has been genetically altered to the point where industrial corn grown on farms really can't be eaten until it has been processed with all sorts of nasty chemicals to break it down into all kinds of weird food products.

King Corn is really sort of gentle expose on what is wrong with our food system.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
America's heartland, (Iowa, particularly, in this film) is undergoing some serious changes and Aaron Woolf's exposé on the commodity of corn is a welcome addition to those authors and filmmakers who investigate what we eat and how it's made. One thing stands out more than anything else....corn is ubiquitous.

Gently told by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, friends who move to Iowa to raise an acre of corn and then try to follow it to its destinations, "King Corn" goes farther than how corn is planted and tended. The lives of the residents of Greene, Iowa, where the film takes place, become central. This is not your average Chamber of Commerce town tour, by any stretch. Unlike the hard-driving Michael Moore or the self-absorbed Morgan Spurlock, Cheney and Ellis let the camera and the townfolk do the work. It's a winning combination and what the viewer learns from this documentary might not be shocking but nonetheless revealing in sobering terms. "King Corn" is well worth a look.
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