To eat it, we must gnaw on it like beavers; it leaves a drippy mess on our chins and strings of pulp between our teeth.
But no matter how uncouth the cob of corn, it is the hero of summer. Celebrated at barbeques, corn boils and roasts everywhere, everyone loves corn and corn brings us together.
How paradoxical then that corn has become so menacing and divisive.
Corn’s foray into the world of biofuels and the obesity controversy has tainted summer’s sweet yellow treat.
Not that there is any such thing as an innocent vegetable anymore, what with all the fertilizers and pesticides, not to mention the seed engineering and patenting and factory farming, and so on.
But of all the vegetables in the world, corn — or maize, as the industrial crop is known worldwide—is one of the most exploited.
The cereal grain, domesticated in Mesoamerica and spread throughout the American continents, reached the rest of the world after European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
Today, the top producers are as widespread as China, Brazil, France, Indonesia, India and South Africa.
Maize is the largest crop in all of the Americas.
But the United States alone produces almost half of the world’s harvest — more than 270 million metric tonnes annually, with a projected export worth $9.3 billion in 2008, according to Farm News of Iowa.
Worldwide, production of maize beats out wheat.
In 2004, close to 33 million hectares of maize was planted globally, with a production value of more than $23 billion.
Continuing production spikes can give credit to two main innovations — high-fructose corn syrup and ethynol.
High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener and preservative used in a wide variety of processed foods, including everything from peanut butter to salad dressings to soft drinks.
It is made by converting the sugar in cornstarch to fructose, another form of sugar.
High-fructose corn syrup extends the shelf life of foods and is sweeter and cheaper than sugar because of high yields and, in the United States, ridiculous government subsidies.
Nutrition experts are now blaming increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup for the obesity epidemic.
One theory is that fructose is more readily converted to fat by your liver than is sucrose, increasing the levels of fat in your bloodstream. Corn-fed cows and poultry, for example, produce meat with more saturated fat.
Another problem is that the high-fructose syrup doesn’t trigger the chemical messages, which tell the brain that the stomach is full, which regular refined sugar does.
Diabetes and high cholesterol are also being linked to corn and the syrup.
Corn ingredients appear in almost 4,000 products, or more than half of what’s on grocery store shelves, according to the Corn Refiners Association.
Corn is also widely used as feed for livestock.
About 14 per cent of US corn is used to produce ethanol.
Ethanol, or ether alcohol, is a grain alcohol — the same found in alcoholic beverages.
It’s a hot commodity these days as the latest biofuel in a world that is hot for green solutions to global warming.
Henry Ford’s first mass-produced automobile, the famed Model T Ford, was invented to run on pure anhydrous (ethanol) alcohol, but few places have yet to approve the substance in its 100 per cent form as a motor vehicle fuel.
Most cars using ethanol at levels of 10 per cent.
However, in Brazil, almost half its cars are able to use 100 per cent ethanol, which Brazil produces from domestically grown sugar cane, rather than corn.
The benefits of ethanol is that it produces fewer greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Added to gasoline, it also reduces ground-level ozone formation.
But critics say the devastating environmental impacts of the ethanol industry make it a joke as ‘green’ fuel.
“As bad as the annual flood of cheap corn is for our health — nutritionally worthless high-fructose corn syrup, cheap feed for confined animals pumped full of antibiotics and hormones — it may be even worse for the environment,” writes Tom Philpott, in Grist, a nonprofit environmental group out of Seattle.
US corn farmers dump more than 10 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer onto their fields — a heavier dose than for any other crop by a factor of nearly three, writes Philpott.
Crushing natural fertility agents in the soil and into waterways and killing fish, this process is credited with creating the Dead Zone, a useless patch of water void of oxygen the size of New Jersey, which runs from the Mississippi delta to the Gulf of Mexico.
The biofuel and high-fructose corn syrup debates continue to heat up as the US continues to produce and subsidize so much corn that it is dumping most of it and still unable to get rid of it all.
The result is a country full of obese children, dead waters and an environmental movement so full of hypocrisy that it promises never to make the slightest dent in the fight against global warming.
Corn is yummy and nutritious with a little butter and salt.
It’s not so great as a fuel that kills the land, or a sweetener that ruins our bodies.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.