Ever Seen “King Corn?”
KING CORN presents two philosophies behind farm subsidies. In the 1930s, subsidies helped control the amount of corn produced each year, ensuring that overproduction would not drive down prices. Starting in the 1970s, subsidies encouraged farmers to produce as much as possible. According to the film, what are the pros and cons of each approach? Which approach makes the most sense to you and why?
In 1973, newly appointed Secretary of State Earl L. Butz completely metamorphosed the agricultural industry by enacting the new farm program, which forever altered the rural farm experience from a family endeavor to a commercial venture. In historical footage from King Corn Dr. Butz debuted the new system; “what we want out of agriculture is plenty of food, and that’s our drive now. We have experienced a 180-degree turn in the philosophy of our farm programs. We’ve abandoned the long time philosophy of curtailment and cutback to the new philosophy of expansion, and it makes sense.” (16:37).
One of the benefits of the old family farm regime was that it kept supply and demand balanced; crop prices stayed high, and government subsidies supported family farms. Sometimes this meant farmers were restricted on the amount of agriculture they could produce. No one was getting rich this way, but the system was fairly equitable. Farming families had an intensive load of work, but they also produced a high quality product. Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, the makers of the documentary King Corn, commented on how families spent 32-34 percent of their income on food back in the days of their great grandparent’s. This cost did not leave much time or money available for anything else to be accomplished, so it is no wonder that our predecessors wanted to make life easier and more profitable for themselves and future generations. (1:17:13). By today’s standards Americans spend half that amount on food – a significant difference.
The 1973 agricultural decision, which pulled out all stops on crop growing has completely changed the face of farming. Production increasingly modernized to decrease human workload and increase agricultural yield, but at what expense has our affluence cost us? Everything has cheapened, literally! Cheap subsidy corn is going into our bodies, taking the form of unhealthy products like high fructose corn syrup and grain-fed beef. We eat so much disguised corn these days that most of our bodies carbon originates from corn. (SteveMacko, King Corn). The result of these disturbing dietary habits (sponsored by our government) is largely responsible for our overweight society, diabetes, and poor health in general. So why does the government continue to subsidize the overproduction of cheap corn when they know it is bad for our nation? Because it makes money – oodles of money! Dr. Butz said it is… “the basis of our affluence now. The fact that we spend less on food. (It is) America’s best kept secret.” (King Corn 1:16:40). The fact is our abundance now contributes to our demise.
While the demand for cheap food is very high, I think a growing shift in American priorities, and the current health crisis is moving us away from the current agricultural approach. The move towards pre 1973 crop production could improve the quality of our crops nutritionally, and make room for healthier government subsidies, so that people can choose the healthier alternatives without the hefty price.