Curt Ellis is a filmmaker and four-wheel farmer based in Brooklyn, NY. He co-created the documentaries "King Corn" and "The Greening of Southie," and is a Food and Society Policy Fellow. He is the co-founder of Wicked Delicate.

Corn again

Amaizing grace

November 30, 2007

This is it, folks — Ian and I (and all the daring people out there who signed up to join us!) are down to our last few hours of exile from the Corn Kingdom. Starting tomorrow, it’s December, and we’re off the King Corn Challenge.

Here’s what I’ve learned in 30 days of not eating corn:

  1. I ate a lot of corn, even when I was trying not to. Things like toothpaste, vanilla, powdered sugar, catfish, and the wax on an apple can all be traced back to a pile of golden kernels. The ways in which this one crop touches our modern food system are more far-reaching than I had ever imagined, or than food packaging makes clear.
  2. I didn’t starve . . . despite an occasional fear of famine in an airport food court. There were all sorts of great corn-free foods to be had, once I started to seek them out. Convenience-store carrots (my new favorite fast food), grass-fed beef and lamb, and even pasture-raised butter and cheese became my new staples. I shopped carefully this month, took the time to read labels, and ate real food.
  3. I’m unbelievably lucky not to have a corn allergy. The people who are struggling to live corn-free all day, every day, for life — and whose health depends on it — are facing a far greater challenge than we did. And with new corn-based products being introduced all the time, staying corn-free is only going to get harder.
  4. If you don’t eat processed corn, your diet gets (with the exception of potato chips) healthier. The King Corn Challenge kept me off corn-oiled French fries, corn-fed burgers, corn-sweetened soda, and most everything that I wanted to eat but knew I shouldn’t. In my 30-day corn-free diet, I lost 7 pounds.
  5. Staying corn-free is not the cure for an ailing food system. In a month of trying to avoid corn, I realized that what I really wanted to avoid was the industrial food that corn makes possible. There are plenty of corn-free foods that are bad for us (ahem, potato chips), and plenty of corn-based foods that are wholesome and delicious — fresh eggs, corn tortillas, and corn-on-the-cob. From now on, I’m keeping with the spirit of the law, but not the letter.
Preparing for hair analysis.

So what am I going to eat tomorrow? I’m having corn-fed eggs for breakfast, corn-fed cream in my coffee, and I’m putting a dollop of hard-won ketchup on my potatoes.

But I’m going to keep some parts of the King Corn Challenge for good: I’m not going to order corn-fed beef, but I’ll have the grass-fed when it’s available. I’m not going to drink soda, but I’ll enjoy my corn syrup in moderation. Most of all, when I have the choice to eat a carrot that looks like a carrot, I’m going to choose that over a corn cob that looks like a candy bar. That’s the kind of challenge I think I can live with.

There is 1 comment on this item
Add a comment
1. by MLO on Dec 2, 2007 at 5:25 AM PST

With experience, your diet can become just as junk food filled as the next - of course, all of it is from scratch.

I’m sort of sad this didn’t get wider play. Ever consider making it an annual or semi-annual event? Or even just a week out of the year?

I would have responded sooner but was in Airport h*ll most of today.

I’m glad you acknowledge our small, but sadly growing corn allergy community. And, it is growing. Somehow, though, there is a deep denial within the USA that there is even a real allergy when it comes to corn. (Almost dying in front of someone due to corn exposure is not necessarily convincing for certain elements of society.)

I am curious if you are familiar with the work showing that much of the corn by-products being introduced into people’s diets may actually be contributing to the propagation of immune dysfunction?



Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [ "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer

Our Table

Joy of Cooking app

A new tool for the kitchen

The latest in our collection of cooking apps.

Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice