Tuesday, October 30, 2007

King Corn?

Okay, this may be bordering on propaganda... but I just thought I would throw it out there for anyone's thoughts and responses. As I was checking out the new Movie Trailers over at www.Quicktime.com I came across the movie titled, "King Corn". I didn't really know what to expect so I clicked on the link and watched the trailer. What I found was ... well, I guess you can say that it was interesting. Basically, it isn't so much a movie as it is a documentary about two guys from the east coast who come to Iowa (my state) to discover where all of this corn goes. Somewhere along the lines they end up growing an acre for some reason and make a movie about their experiences and investigations.

I watched the trailer, went to the website, and came away confused. Here I am living in a state that thrives on corn (and beans) and the subsidies that go along with it. My family members live off of corn, my neighbors do, my friends do, well ... basically a lot of people in Iowa do! But, does that make it the right way to farm? Does that make it the most healthy way to raise the animals we eat? Those are good questions to ask ... but when you ask those questions in Iowa ... well, let's just say they aren't popular questions.

There were a couple of red flags that popped up on my "propaganda radar". First of all "The Austin Chronicle" said, "As relevant as Super Size Me and as important as An Inconvenient Truth." I just don't know if I can trust anything that is compared (in a good light in this case) to movies by Michael Moore and Al Gore. It just grates against my world view! And secondly, it is mostly showing in large (mostly liberal) cities. I realize that is where it will receive the most welcome response, but it would ease my mind if it branched out a little.

Basically, I don't know where I stand ... I'm an Iowan. I eat lots of corn, I put ethanol in my car, I feed yummy corn to my backyard chickens, I really love corn! On the flip side, I am sold on pastured beef and God's creation of animals sustaining largely on pasture. So, what is an Iowa boy to do? I would love any thoughts on this movie or basic idea. It is something that really interests me as I look at a transition to the farm.

**UPDATE** If you check the comments you will see that the director for King Corn noticed my post. I have e-mailed him asking to keep me up to date on any Iowa screenings. Also, the folks from Sugar Creek Farm commented about a screening coming up at Iowa State University. You can check out the details by clicking on this LINK. Thanks for reading!

22 comments:

Steven said...

Shhhh....
Don't say subsidies too loud.
I just had a really heated discourse with a family member that works in Missouri government because I spoke negatively about subsidies.
It really is amazing how hot of a button that is. It's amazing to me that Reagan was for finding a way to lower and get ride of subsidies yet self-proclaimed conservatives now find a way to justify them.
The way I see it, corn feeding animals came from the fact that corn was very cheap. If it is only cheap because of subsidies then isn't the whole system flawed? and sort of fake?
Now that corn prices are going up even with subsidies will people finally take a look at WHY we feed so much corn to animals ?

Steven said...

When I read my comment back I sound like I may be a liberal. Well, sorry 'bout that but I'm not at all. I'm actually so conservative that I'm sick seeing Rudy in the lead.
I'm one of the new hippies. lol
The "Christian, Conservative, maybe one day Homeschooling, Dexter beef and milk Raising Hippies".

sugarcreekfarm said...

There's going to be a screening of the movie and panel discussion with the filmmakers at Iowa State...See this for more info.

Ethan Book said...

Steven- You are right ... subsidies are a touchey subject ... flawed systems are the problem across global cultures period. Creating alternatives to the culture is what I enjoy whether it be in my youth ministry and I'm running counter-culture to the current "church" culture or in the farming world.

Sugar Creek- Thanks for pointing that out. I'm glad to see that they will be showing it somewhere else in Iowa other than the University of Iowa. Too bad it is on a Wednesday night or I would be there. Are you going?

Aaron said...

Hi - I am the director of the film King Corn and I was so glad to see that you Ethan (and maybe commentator Steven) could possibly come to the Ames event. It would be great to meet in person. I think a lot of what we had hoped for with this film was for the oportunity to bring farmers and consumers together. I really appreciate your thoughtful responses to what you've seen of the film and I really look forward to talking after you've seen the whole piece. I think one fundamental fact about all the questions about our food and agriculture in America today is that we're all in this togther - if our subsidy system IS flawed - or if it has unintended results, then we all suffer the consequences - even those who ostensibly benefit.

I have been really heartened to see such bi-partisan interest in farm legislation reform - such as that of the current "Fresh Act" proposed by Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana and Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

I also really wanted to comment on the more spiritual responses to what we saw on our food journey through America, specifically on the consequences of feeding so much corn to cattle. I really am grateful for the dialogue on line and hope to continue in person or more here... My email is aaron@kingcorn.net

Steven said...

I couldn't find an email address for you, so I have to leave this in a comment.. sorry
first - is there a way that you could have a list of the newest posted comments? that way I will know if someone responds to a comment that I've made.
for an example see www.unifyinglife.com

second - another blog I've been enjoying is http://www.devinrose.heroicvirtuecreations.com/blog

have a good day,
Steven

Ethan Book said...

Aaron- Thanks for stumbling on to my blog. I am very intersted in your movie, but won't be able to make it to the event because that is church night and I'm the youth pastor. Hopefully I will have a chance to watch it ... maybe when it hits DVD?

Steven- Thanks for the links, I'm going to try working on the comment thing, but I'm really just learning about this whole blog thing!

Aaron said...

aaron@kingcorn.net is my email address - why not send me yours and I can let you know about other Iowa screenings - we are trying to set up a bunch of them right now: Des Moines; Clear Lake; Charles City etc --

Steven said...

Just so you know Aaron, I live in Southeast Missouri so I won't be able to make it either.

Rob said...

I hope with rising prices on corn the political support for price subsidies will erode. It just doesn't make sense to continue to subsidize corn. It's a double tax on consumers who pay the tax to subsidize and then have to pay more to buy the product. I am sensitive to farmers though and think it should be eased out gradually. Isn't that what happened with tobacco quotas in the Southeast?

Trace said...

To speak to the screening of this doc in large cities, it is usually used to get the word out about the film when a documentary like this is released.
Documentary filmmakers don't usually have any money for distribution or making DVDs, so screenings in big cities help with that and also get private funders involved. For an example, look into "The Real Dirt on Farmer John".
From the big cities it goes to small community venues or even to "house shows" for people who want to involve their neighbors. The DVD is made available for a reduced cost or for free if you are willing to host a screening and get a certain number of people to come watch it and maybe pass the hat for voluntary donations or charge a dollar or two at the door. In the case of Farmer John, the film was used to spur interest in local food, development of agricultural land and CSAs. King Corn might be used to get folks to question the subsidy system or take a moment to ponder why corn filler is in pretty much any manufactured food. I have not seen the film, but look forward to screening it in my community. It looks interesting and should spur some reflection about what corn has become...

sugarcreekfarm said...

Aaron - I'm excited to hear that you are looking at some screenings in northern Iowa - Clear Lake or Charles City would both work out great for me!

Ethan Book said...

Trace-

I do understand the idea behind starting out in big cities, but I'm not sure if those are the people they need to be preaching to ... I wonder, maybe Aaron can answer ... are they going to have a special viewing for the people in Greene, IA where their corn field was?

Trace said...

Ethan:

The thing is, we all eat corn no matter where we live. Big city folks are just as affected by corn policies as the folks who grow it, process it and package it. City people may not realize it like you or I do.

I think that since the vast majority of city dwellers have no idea or don't even care where their food comes from, it makes sense to educate them. I don't think they would necessarily be preached to so much as educated. Even big city liberals could use a dose of the realities of farming economics.

As I said before, if the King Corn filmmakers follow to usual route of documentary films, they will screen it wherever and whenever they can including Greene, IA. They just need to generate some interest and funding to start with. That is just the way it seems to work out best without having to struggle to get the film to the folks that want to see it.

Aaron said...

Hi all -- Trace is right in that with documentary in general, you kind of are lucky to show the piece almost anywhere -- and it is true that this film is partially about trying to show urban viewers that what happens on the farm matters to them. But we are very dedicated to bringing this film to rural America, particularly in the corn belt. It is no small chore and even though the film is so in debt already, we are doing further fundraisers here on the coasts to try and raise money to rent single screen cinemas in Iowa wher we can show the film and then have a good healthy open debate about the issues it raises.

I don't know if you've read any of the reviews of the film you can find some at www.rottentomatoes.com but one thing that a lot of responses to the film have said is that this film is not trying to preach... I know that's more your field Ethan! - and besides I think we all understand that the film is only the beginning of the discussion not the end. --- Aaron

Aaron said...

I also wanted to add that many people in Greene HAVE seen the film and the responses that I have heard have been positive. Remember that our family comes from Greene which is why we went there. Chuck, the farmer that we rented our acre from just came to Washington with us where we showed the film on Capitol Hill.

Ethan Book said...

Trace, Aaron, and all...

I do understand completely what you both are saying. I do understand the importance of getting the backers and that it is also about getting the "city folks" informed about their food and where it is coming from. I will stand by my feeling that it is the farmers that need to be convinced that there is an alternative ... I go through this as I talk to people about raising grassfed beef and starting a pastoral farm (as in pastures not Pastors).

And, I will give credit where credit is due. I am glad to hear that many in Greene, IA have seen the film. Also, I found out yesterday that it will be played at the Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference this January (which I won't be able to attend). I heard from a friend that works with the PFI that she was very impressed and that it wasn't very pushy or preachy (just as you said Aaron). Maybe the advertisement of the quotes about Algore and Michael Moore just got my Midwestern Christian hackles up ... I will admit that could be the case. As I mentioned before, I'm really looking forward to getting a chance to see this and would gladly help set up a viewing if there is a possibility. I have not been persuaded one way or the other yet, just stating some of the things I felt after watching the preview and surfing the site.

Thanks again for all the comments and checking out the blog. I encourage both of you to continue coming back and passing along this blog to others interested in different ideas when it comes to farmer. I am all about farming differently!

Aaron said...

Thanks for saying that Ethan. You know there are about a million people it seems writing about this film (or what people want to read into it...) out there these days. And the first time that I have felt motivated to chime in has been on your blog. I think that's because of the sense of inquiry and balance and maybe even contradiction in some of your ideas about food and farming.

I guess I felt like that in a larger sense that you and I were in the same camp in that we aren't polemicists (despite the marketers trying to sell King Corn by comparing it to those very polemical films that got your hackles up) and that we're trying to figure things out for ourselves. I can assure you that no one is paying me to do what I do and while I'm sure you and I would agree on some things and disagree on others, I really like the sense that we both feel there is worth in engagement. Why would you have started a blog otherwise and why would I have made a film...

"Pastor" and "pasture" and "pastoral" of course are all related etymologically. And I think spiritually as well. Not just from the lamb of God origins, or the sense of pastor as sheppard but in the sense that there is a divinity to God's creatures living as designed...grazing animals eating grass on pasture for example. I'm not a vegetarian but I believe that we should all be eating food - whether plant or animal - that lived with dignity. To me that means a steer that ate what God designed for them to eat which is God's green grass.

Steven said...

This is what's really got me sold on grass-fed meat.

Previously I might have answered someone that told me about the health consequences of overfeeding corn to cattle and hogs by saying that it is worth doing because of the cheapness of the food. That would be from my capitalistic side.
And I might have answered someone that told me about the economic and logistic problems with feeding confined animals by saying, well, at least we get plenty of cheap and health meat.
But when it's not economical (without subsidies) to feed confined animals grain, and it's also bad for the animals health to eat it and bad for our health to eat the meat... well... what's left to justify the whole process?

To me it just seems like we've tinkered with God's plan for us to the point that nothing is right and natural anymore. Instead of trying to improve on God's creation we should just realize how he set things up to work and use it to our advantage.
If he covered a huge portion of the earth in grass and we can't eat the grass, then why are we covering the earth in corn and soy beans (things we can eat) and then feeding it to animals?

Sorry, I'm just rambling now.

Ethan Book said...

Everyone-

Thanks for all of the comments on this topic. It has me really thinking and examining my ideas. Like you both mentioned Steven and Aaron the wonderful design of God's creation has a lot to do with the way I want to do things on my farm (when it completely happens). I look forward to a continued exchange of ideas through this blog and other sources!

Trace said...

I think the great part about documentaries like King Corn is that the screenings are almost always followed by some sort of discussion. Folks can ask questions, make comments and find out how other people in the room react to the ideas presented in the film. Documentary film has a certain power to bring out some great ideas and make movement towards change seem a little easier. Or it might affirm that we are on the right track. Either way, it gets folks talking.

Abby said...

Super Size me was made by Mogan Spurlock, not Michael Moore.

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