When I returned to the Upper Midwest last summer for a visit, I couldn't help but notice a change in the fields. The vast oceans of wheat and the fields of sunflowers were gone. In their place grew soybeans and corn.
And according to the National Corn Growers Association, spring planting trends will continue to favor corn
So what's wrong with lots of corn? For one thing, it means that other crops become more scarce as corn prices go up and farmers turn to the big corn payoff.
Films like King Corn
have attacked the environmental and dietary risks of our national corn obsession.
And on the topic of corn-fed beef, food writer Michael Pollan
says: "The industry can always make the popular arguments, because they certainly make things cheaper. But is it really cheap? Think of the taxpayer, who's actually subsidizing every one of those burgers. All that corn requires an immense amount of fossil fuel. Corn requires more fertilizers and pesticides than other crops. It takes the equivalent of half a gallon of gasoline to grow every bushel of corn. [Almost] everything we do to protect our oil supply ... is a cost of that burger."
A very active athlete, J consumes New York City like Galactus
chews through planets. Thus, he's bound to notice the effects of agricultural policy on food costs (and small-scale businesses) a little more quickly than I would.
Herein J reports on how things are going for those on the front lines: old-school vendors on the Lower East Side. A moist, tasty muffin (for $2.25) from the Tra La La Juice Bar.
1. There's a fantastic dumpling shop in my neighborhood that has sold their pork & chive fried dumplings at 5/$1 for the last ten years. When I went in last night, the price had gone to 4/$1. I mentioned the change to the owner. She said, "flour tripled, $18/bag to $60/bag, and my other ingredients are up too."
2. A guy in the local covered market makes muffins. My favorite one has been $1.75 since I moved to NYC. It went to $2.25 a couple weeks ago. Explanation: "All of my ingredients have gotten more expensive. Using corn for fuel was the stupidest thing anybody could have come up with, 'cause now the price of corn — the root of all US agriculture — has shot up, taking everything else with it." He went on a tirade, talking about how biofuel has to be shipped in trucks that burn more biofuel rather via pipelines, &c.
I just stood there, listening and chewing my $2.25 muffin.
Just a little something to chew on the next time you see high-fructose corn syrup in your sports drink or corn ethanol at the gas pump.
Labels: agriculture, biofuel, food costs, nutrition, politics, trends