I’m going to put it out there: I love corn. Sweet, yellow corn on the cob, slathered with butter and a light sprinkling of salt. When I take the first bite of that fresh corn in the summer, I’m so in love I think I could eat it for the other 10 months of the year, breakfast, lunch, dinner. Corn, corn, corn.
Today, however, a new kernel of information published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that maybe I have been eating it all along.
Hope Jahren and Rebecca Kraft of the University of Hawaii used a stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen to examine the food served at three fast food restaurants: McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. Their findings, described in the article “Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in fastfood: Signatures of corn and confinement,” show that the overwhelming majority of fast food is based on a single source: corn.
Corn’s unique carbon signature is present in the burgers, chicken and even fries served at the restaurants. This means that the cows and chickens that became fast-food sandwiches were fed corn when they were still alive. In fact, in their 162 samples of beef, only 12 showed a food source that was not corn.
Why is this a big deal? Animals in feedlots are fed corn to provide them with as many calories as possible in order to fatten them up sooner. Corn might not have much in the way of nutritional value (the most hefty mineral in it is iron, at 25%), but as Catherine Friend notes in her book The Compassionate Carnivore, “when it comes to calories, corn is king.”
Unfortunately, she says, animals like cows and sheep weren’t meant to load up on corn, and “the heavy corn diet creates such acid in their bodies that their livers blow out.” Pumping them full of antibiotics is the only way to keep them healthy enough to get to market weight. Mmm, tasty.
Jahren and Kraft’s findings only further prove what Michael Pollan described in his 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and what filmmaker Aaron Woolf showed in the film King Corn (2007): that a shocking chunk of the American diet—not just fast-food—can be traced back to corn. Corn isn’t just what we feed the animals we eat, but it’s also in the sweeteners in soda, the artificial yellow coloring of a snack, and the fermented glucose in beer.
It is of little surprise to see that during their study, Jahren and Kraft also found corn present in the different oils used to cook the food (not to mention the fact that these oils didn’t always match the advertised ingredients).
What I’m wondering is, if a diet heavy in corn can destroy the liver of a 1400-pound cow, what’s it going to do to me, a much-less-than-1400-pound person? All of a sudden, I’m not so hungry anymore.Share Post: | Stumble | Share on Facebook | Tweet This |