Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

June 2008

Corn Founded

The Iowa corn growers have an association that publishes stuff about corn — favorable stuff. Nevertheless, I caught a show on public television in the middle of the night that had a lot of stuff about corn — generally unfavorable to down and dirty scary.

Here’s the deal: Corn growers warn that a world without corn would be a world without pizza, plasterboard, and dripless lollipops. The film posited that you, I, and all our babies are slowly but surely turning into corn mush.

Could they both be right?

My direct corn consumption, I thought, was pretty much popcorn and seasonal corn on the cob. Then I started reading labels:

Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread — listed right between “water” and “yeast” is “high fructose corn syrup.”

Cheerios —  immediately after “whole grain oats” is “modified corn starch.”

Marie Callender’s original recipe ranch croutons — some more of that high fructose corn syrup and maybe a pinch of hydrolyzed corn protein.

Generic home-style pancake and waffle mix —  no corn products.

What? No corn products in generic pancake mix? Oh my goodness, they used sugar! 

So: If I stick to pancakes without phony syrups (no corn in Vermont maple syrup) or corn-oil margarine (try butter), I can start de-corning myself.  I’m assuming canned tuna can be on my new reduced-corn diet. Unfortunately, beef, — especially hamburger —  chicken, and farm-raised fish are out.

I’m keeping popcorn and cobs in (with real butter, of course), which means I can burn ethanol in my vehicles and utilize cornstarch in wallpaper paste, or in any of the 400 other non-edible corn products touted on corn-growing states’ Web sites.

Can you believe that there are 400 non-edible corn products?

Years ago, Vermont maple sugar harvesters needed wider distribution, so they, like today’s Midwestern corn growers, put their thinking caps on. As a tribute to one of their more creative ideas, there’s a building in St. Johnsbury you should check out. It looks like a multistory bomb shelter. It was actually built of concrete, floor-by-floor. After each floor was cured, it was jacked up and supporting walls and columns were added. The whole building was used to process maple syrup for shipment south in rail cars. The adjacent siding allowed the cars to be loaded by gravity.

The syrup was used as a flavoring in chewing tobacco.

On another corn promo site, concluding a pitch for tires made largely out of corn ... 

“But it does represent another use of corn, which could eventually help pull prices back to decent levels, according to Mark Lambert, Illinois Corn Growers Association communications director.

“... Corn is currently utilized to make everything from explosives and fuel to biodegradable plastics. Lambert said it can also be found in about 3,500 products found in grocery stores.”

Next time I’m in the supermarket I’ll ask if they have any corn-flavored chew.