You may have heard about the ubiquity of corn in the American diet, but still, the numbers are staggering: Some 70 percent of the carbon in a typical American ultimately derives from corn. In addition to its more overt manifestations, on cobs and in Doritos, we eat it in the form of beef, pork and chicken from corn-fed animals; as high-fructose corn syrup in cookies, soda and, well, everything else; and as corn oil used to cook French fries.
In the documentary King Corn, two fast-food-loving recent college grads from Boston, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, investigate the corn economy firsthand by traveling to Iowa to plant their own acre. As they follow the progress of their crop, whose genetically engineered weed resistance is called "Liberty," they learn about the causes of our current government-subsidy regime and its effects on the health of small towns, cattle and the American populace.
Cheney and Ellis are a likable pair, and their film has a sweet, homespun quality. In their travels among pleasant Midwesterners and noncombative corporate spokespeople, they fail to identify a real villain; even the former secretary of agriculture who engineered our system of overproduction in the 1970s is shown to have had good motives. But their story doesn't need a villain, and the absence of one is an accurate reflection of the problem, which stems from the intersection of large, impersonal forces, including market consolidation and our love of a good deal.
King Corn screens as part of UNC's weeklong Food Day Film Festival. Local refreshments will be served, and a student panel discussion will follow. This screening, like others in the series, is free and open to the public. Look up Food Day Film Festival's event on Facebook for more information. —Marc Maximov