Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Corn By Any Other Name

So what, exactly, does Corn-Free July entail?

It's not as black and white as it sounds.  What about free-range chickens or pigs that are fed some corn?  What about things like corn muffins made from local, organic ingredients?  This and more is entirely up for discussion.  

As I pointed out last year, there are really two kinds of corn.  
Sweet corn, the kind you eat on the cob, has nothing to do with what we're avoiding, unless you're allergic (although it's especially susceptible to pests and fungal diseases and so, even when farmed on a small, local scale, it has a tendency to be treated with more chemicals than some other crops.)  

Field corn, also know as commodity corn, or number two corn, is the stuff you see rows and rows and rows of in the midwest.  It would taste terrible if you tried to eat it right off the cob, and it's mostly used for feeding animals on factory farms, being broken down into high fructose corn syrup, and otherwise snuck into the Western diet for no good reason.

Even this can be a gray area though.  Maybe if the bill to make labeling genetically engineered foods mandatory ever goes through (click here to sign the petition) it'll be easier to figure out what really needs avoiding, but until then, it's a difficult process, and it also depends on our individual priorities in terms of why we eat what we eat.

More on that later, but here's a starter list of some of the most common ingredients derived from corn:

ascorbic acid
caramel color
vegetable oil
xanthan gum

Not all of these necessarily mean corn every time.  However, the rule of thumb that I think makes sense is, if the people labeling the ingredients think the chemical compound is more relevant information than the actual plant it came from, I don't want to eat it anyway.  You probably don't want to confuse your grocery list for the makings of a science project.

Feel free to add to this list.  I'm sure there are a bunch I'm forgetting, as well as a handful that I'm not sure about.

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