Monday, April 19, 2010

King Corn: A Quick Movie Review

Ian Cheney (left) and Curt Ellis 
taste their harvest in Greene, Iowa.
Photo by Sam Cullman
I added King Corn to my Netflix queue months ago and got it in the mail in early 2010 but just got around to watching it this weekend.  It's the fourth documentary I've watched about food and although I'd read much of the information before, it was still very alarming to watch the story unfold in this film.  

In short, King Corn is about two guys who set out on a mission to find some answers to the looming questions about America's deteriorating health.  They lease an acre of land, plant some corn, and get to the heart of the issue: the farm bill.

If you've ever wondered why American's eat the way we eat (or why ethanol has made its way into our gas tanks or why cows don't graze on grass anymore), the farm bill is probably the closest thing to an answer as we'll ever come.  Once meant to basically act as insurance to our nation's most vulnerable farmers, it now serves the interests of big corporations like McDonald's and Coca-Cola more than the farmer or the average American.  This critical piece of legislation gets revised every five years or so, which is good news for anyone wanting to influence its next iteration. 

In any case, filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis did a pretty good job demonstrating not only what farming in America has become, but how exactly it is that corn has made its way into our DNA.  Now I love corn just as much as the next person out there (probably more actually), but as Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma puts it best: 

 “If you’re standing in a field in Iowa, there’s an immense amount of food being grown, none of it edible. The commodity corn, nobody can eat. It must be processed before we can eat it. It’s a raw material—it’s a feedstock for all these other processes. And the irony is that an Iowa farmer can no longer feed himself.” 
God love corn on the cob, but we must rise up against this "commodity corn" that becomes our high fructose corn syrup and animal feed!  My only criticism of King Corn is probably the same criticism as I have for most documentaries on the topic... its a little to soft-spoken for my taste.  Ian and Curt discover all the bad things that their corn will become when they go to sell their harvest.  But they don't really advocate that anyone change their ways... at least not overtly.  

Overall, From Seed to Stomach gives King Corn a 4 Seed Rating.  While this film isn't as in-your-face as I'd like it to be, it sheds light on a very important facet of American culture.  It's all about awareness, right?

Other Documentaries about Food worth Watching:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Month of Meals from the Atlantic to the Pacific: Part 1 – Milwaukee

March was an unbelievable month!  I had to travel for work for the first time in a while and took advantage of every possible opportunity to eat and drink like the locals.  First stop was Milwaukee.  Now I know what you're thinking... Milwaukee can't be all that exciting for a pseudo-vegetarian, right?  WRONG!  Sure there were loads of sausage everywhere.  It seemed like everyone who found out I was going there told me I HAD to get some bratwurst.  To be honest, the idea hadn't occurred to me until someone suggested it and then it just kinda grossed me out.  And besides... Milwaukee's in WISCONSIN... the land of CHEESE!  

So I set out on a mission to eat lots of amazing cheese and that's just what I did.  I did my due diligence and searched trusty old yelp high and low  for the best cheese Milwaukee had to offer and decided to check out the Wisconsin Cheese Bar at 1048 N. Old World 3rd Street.  I was lucky enough to have a friend to go with!  Christina, an old friend from Lehigh happened to RANDOMLY be in Milwaukee (staying at the same hotel no less) while I was there and let me tell you... there's no better way to catch up with a friend than over some wine and cheese!  I got an amazing platter of cheeses that included a raspberry cheddar, a cranberry cheddar, some "string cheese" (think fresh mozzarella curd), and some fudge!
Nuts, crackers, and dried fruit completed the plate and a flight of white wine perfected my meal.  I got to sample all of Christina's cheese, too!  Talk about a cheeselover's heaven on earth... this is the place!  If you’re ever in Milwaukee, I would definitely recommend a stop at the Wisconsin Cheese Bar.  They’ve been making cheese for over 70 years and carry over 150 types of Wisconsin cheese.  Oh, and by the way, they deliver!  

That pretty much sums up Milwaukee.  I was there Wed - Sat and worked all day every day, so I didn't have much time to explore.  I was pleasantly surprised by the city itself.  It was pretty charming and if the weather hadn't been cold and rainy, I might have explored a little more. I did make sure to pick up a bag of cheddar cheese curds at the airport as I was leaving.  It felt a little weird to be digging around a bag of cheese bits on my flight to San Francisco (that post will be next), but those cheese curds were delicious. 

Side Note: Just in case you're wondering, I was in Milwaukee for a computer science education conference to market books to professors.  That's what I do... I market computing books.  The conference was a big success, but the conference food that was served during breaks made me want to throw a temper tantrum.  I discovered High Fructose Corn Syrup in yogurt and juice and it made me angry!