Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!

Why Feed Them Corn?


Yesterday I was watching a documentary.  Yeah, I’m still in one of those phases.  Then again, there’s only so many movies out there to watch and I can only tolerate watching the same plots repeated over and over again so long.  I get bored of regular movies, so I’ve been taking it upon myself to watch documentaries.

Much to my surprise, the kids actually joined me for my documentary watching yesterday.  I had decided to watch King Corn.  It’s an interesting documentary about the corn farming industry and our culture’s unhealthy dependence on corn.  I think the food industry is really interesting, but I know my kids don’t seem to care too much one way or another.  It’s not really either of their things, so I’m sure you can imagine I was surprised when a third or so through the documentary the kids both sat down to watch.

First the questions were easy.  What were these people doing?  Why were they growing an acre of corn?  Do they want to be farmers or something?  What do they plan to do with all that corn?  Is that huge pile that looks like sand actually corn?

Then the light commentary started coming.  The kids thought it was funny that they had no idea how to use a tractor.  They were surprised at how quickly an acre of corn could be planted.  The little corn plants were so cute.  Holy cow, they’re going to have a lot of corn when they’re finally done if everything goes according to plan.

It wasn’t much later that I saw the gears beginning to turn.  First it was Corde.  She wanted to know why farmers were locking their cows up in small spaces and feeding them corn.  It didn’t make sense.  Cows eat grass.  Eating too much corn makes them sick and they’d die if they didn’t get killed for food anyway.  Why would anyone feed them corn?  For that matter, why would we eat so much in the way of corn?

Beekee’s thoughts were a lot more practical.  He was so excited when they got to take their first bite of the corn they grew, but he was quickly disappointed by their reaction.  They said it was horrible and tasted like sawdust.  After all that work, they couldn’t even eat their own food.  He was annoyed that the corn syrup factories wouldn’t allow them to take a tour to see how the process worked for their documentary.  He and Corde both agreed that they must know they’re doing something bad that people won’t want to see if they don’t want cameras in there.  It’s not like it’s some big secret, obviously, as these two guys were able to make their own corn syrup.  He thought it was horrible to grown corn knowing that you’re not going to be able to eat it.  “Food is supposed to feed people!  You’re not supposed to send it away to make it into yucky stuff to make other stuff taste better.  I want to eat some real corn if we grow it, not yucky sawdust corn!”

The kids were both surprised when they heard about the effects high fructose corn syrup has on the body.  Even one soda a day can drastically increase your risk of diabetes.  Corde pointed out that she didn’t want me to die because I used to drink three or four sodas a day, easily.  I recall my mom drinking pretty much nothing but soda in my entire childhood, aside from one singular glass of milk in the morning.  She always used to justify it by saying it was diet soda, but at the same time we were exceedingly limited on how much soda we could have.  I’m not surprised that I imitated her when I grew up.  Now that we’re short on money for food, soda is out of the budget.  The kids were still worried, but as other medical studies have proven, the best way to prevent those diseases, and sometimes even reverse the effects, is to get off of a diet of those foods.  I just have to wonder if that would happen with GMOs and my strange allergies too.

In the end of the movie they tallied up all of their costs and their profits, which shocked the kids.  The kids thought that with growing 180 bushels of corn they MUST be making a profit.  Well, they were wrong.  They actually lost something like $30 off of their acre.  However, that was mostly balanced out by a singular subsidy from the government of $28, paid half when they started and half after harvest.  From what they said there were tons of other subsidies available that other farmers used in order to make corn a profit generating industry.  If it wasn’t for that most of these farms would have gone under years ago.

The kids both think this is incredibly wrong.  Corde was especially opinionated about this one.  It’s not fair that we feed animals corn when they shouldn’t be eating it.  We talked about the special diet I used to have for our dog before he ran away because Alaskan Malamutes can’t handle corn and soy in their diet.  They’re not meant to eat it and it can make them sick.  Corde was really upset that the government is paying all of these farmers to make food that can’t be eaten until it’s processed into “junk that we shouldn’t even eat because it could make us die!”

Sadly, Corde and Beekee want to go on a quest to eat a diet that’s free of high fructose corn syrup, but that’s just not possible on a food stamp budget.  Fruits and vegetables are safe.  Soups and pasta are generally safe.  Unfortunately, so many foods are not.  Our bread contains high fructose corn syrup.  The expensive tomato sauce we splurge on does not, but the cheap stuff does have it.  We’re going to start reading the ingredients lists of things together because the kids are really upset about the fact that poor people need to eat crazy things just to avoid that deadly high fructose corn syrup.

They really don’t want us eating corn-fed beef because they don’t think it’s right to eat sick cows.  I agree, but that means cutting all beef from our diet unless we can find another place that sells grass-fed beef.  I used to buy it all the time, but it was pricey and is now out of our budget.  I’m seriously considering going beef-free, but I really don’t like poultry and I don’t eat pork, so that would drastically limit my diet.  It might be different if Oz were more willing to go vegetarian, but it’s a struggle for him to give up pork.  I don’t think he could ever give up all meat.

In all of this I’m afraid to show them anything on GMOs.  If I did that they’d probably start getting super picky about foods.  They’d want to stop eating corn and soy all together.  They’d go vegetarian because they don’t want to eat animals that are fed those kinds of foods either.  It would mean we’d be looking for everything certified non-GMO and I’d have to figure out vegetarian cooking and fast.  We’d have to find a way to do healthy-vegetarian on the cheap.  It’s good that my kids are so conscious about what they’re willing to put in their bodies, but eating healthy isn’t for the poor, not really.  We do the best we can.

Still, I can’t help but think I’m raising little activists.  They don’t want to sit by while other people tell them what to eat, especially when there’s so much evidence that it’s not safe or healthy to eat the things they’re told to eat.  They want to live good, healthy lives so they don’t end up having the same problems I do.  I can’t blame them.

And a message from Corde and Beekee:

Everyone should watch this movie so that they can understand what the farms in America are doing.  If farmers would make corn that people could actually eat instead of stuff that makes junk food better tasting then no one in this country would ever have to go hungry. They just might get sick of eating corn.

And Beekee had to add specifically, “Everyone should make the farmers feed cows grass.  Corn makes cows sick and die.  I don’t want to eat corn sick cows.  They might make me dead too.”

Such smart kids.  So you heard it!  They say go watch it!  More importantly, I think the clearer, better message from the kids is to educate yourselves.  If these concepts are easy enough for a 9 and 5 year old to understand, why isn’t this common knowledge, and why is the government just letting it happen?


Author: Fox

With four kids, who has time for much? We spend a lot of time together, which translates to a lot of knitting time for me when we hang out. We've been trying to get back to our unschooling roots. We watch a lot of videos, play a lot of games, and pay attention to the things we notice in our everyday life. It's been quite the big adventure!

19 thoughts on “Why Feed Them Corn?

  1. Those sound like smart kids! Congrats to you on raising them that way.

    • Thanks so much! They really are amazing kids. Of course, I don’t like to take so much credit for that. They follow their hearts, and thankfully that’s lead to lots of learning!

  2. If kids can see the wrong then why can’t the world of grown ups????
    You have given them light don’t be afraid to give them more. They are the next inheritors so they need all the information they can get! We are farmers and beekeepers. It is very hard to eat the ‘food’ now. But you do what can do now. Use this to plant a seed for growing, both literally and figuratively. If they learn now truths ,they can hopefully be effective environmental leaders. Not enough kids even get outside!
    You are very good to keep up the conversation! good job!

    • You’d have a hard time stopping my kids from going outside. Corde would live in a tree if she could. Beekee and Sander enjoy being covered in dirt. The only one that doesn’t care either way is Luca, and he’s just a baby, so that makes sense. I’m sure it won’t be long before he’ll want nothing more than to be outside all the time.

      We’re hoping to have a better income soon so we can afford to make some healthier choices, and get a real stove so we can actually cook from scratch. We’re also going to be growing some of our own food come spring. Because of that the plan is to introduce the kids to stuff on GMOs come spring. However, Corde has at least expressed interest in documentaries about how our food is made and about living a more vegetarian lifestyle. I don’t think my kids want to entirely give up meat right now, but they definitely want to eat healthier. Since Beekee can’t have milk and doesn’t like eggs he’s already halfway to vegan. It’ll be interesting to see how far they actually go with this.

  3. I once watched an episode about pig farming on Dirty Jobs. The food they fed the pigs was the most disgusting slop in the world. If I wasn’t already a vegetarian, finding out what the pigs ate would surely have made me stop eating pork! And yes you do have smart kids!

    • In the middle ages pigs were kept not for food, but as garbage disposals. If they ate anything resembling pork it was wild boar. Thinking about eating an animal that was designed to be a garbage disposal completely turned me off of eating pigs. Then again, my uncle also used to raise a few pigs on his farm. We used to go feed them the pumpkins that wouldn’t likely sell due to shape or the ones that had partially been attacked by gophers. After that I’m not sure how I kept eating pigs. I have a very hard time eating anything with a face. Knowing that most farmers don’t feed their pigs the way my uncle did would completely turn me off of pork if I hadn’t already been turned off by it in the first place. Ick!

      I’m sure the kids will come across that episode of Dirty Jobs. They’ve decided that’s their new interest in television shows. Good to know that’s coming! It’ll relate well with everything else we’re doing.

  4. If you have Netflix – try watching how stuff works – first one is about corn and all of its uses – popcorn, explosive, lubricant, food, for fuel etc – My kids loved it, it was soooo interesting. I love that you got them thinking about all the yucky stuff that is in our food – keep up the good work they seem like really smart kids.

    • I’ll have to see if they have it on Amazon. Our Netflix account has been giving us a lot of issues, but we’ve got Amazon Prime, which has a lot of cross-over with Netflix. Maybe they’ll have it. If not, it goes on the list for when we can finally get Netflix working again! Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. It’s really nuts that there are so many ethical calls we need to make around our food, isn’t it?

    • If only it was just ethical calls. I don’t really think ethics really falls into it when you’re talking about the health of the nation. With all the publicity about the health care crisis, maybe we should be keeping an eye on preventing illness in the first place rather than dealing with the consequences of our horrible dietary choices. I’m just glad my kids are being exposed to the whys now instead of just being told “We don’t eat that stuff because it’s junk”. I’ve known too many families that are vegan, vegetarian, only organic, follow the paleo diet, etc that don’t really give their children a good understanding of why it’s healthier. It’s just enough that it is. If my five year old can understand it, why can’t everyone?

      We shouldn’t have to make ethical calls or even health choices around our food. We definitely shouldn’t have to make poor choices because we can’t afford to live healthy. I really have to wonder if declining health is somehow the intended goal here, as twisted as that is.

  6. Hooray for your kids (and their mom)! Most Americans are so addicted to cheap junk food that they’re afraid to ask questions about where it came from or why it’s so cheap. I know that sounds cynical but I’m increasingly believing it is a big part of the problem–willful ignorance. There will be a big price to pay someday. Sigh.

    We watch a lot of documentaries too. King Corn is a great one. I also recommend the Vanishing of the Bees and Dirt!, two which we watched and enjoyed recently.


    • I saw both of those listed on Amazon. I’d thought about both of them, but I didn’t know if they were any good so I passed over them for the time being. I figured I’d get back to them later. I’ll definitely have to check them both out when I next get the chance.

      I think a part of it is willful ignorance, yes, but there’s also a lot of people out there who would think a lot differently if someone taught them to think about it, not just accept it as fact. Everyone knows “junk food” is bad, but no one seems to look past cookies and candy as junk food. It’s amazing how many people don’t realize how many bad things are in processed foods just because they grew up on them and their parents wouldn’t have fed it to them if it wasn’t good for you.

      Then again, a big part of the problem is also affordability. I wish I could afford to eat an organic, non-GMO, mostly vegan diet, but I really can’t. It’s much to rich for our blood. Unfortunately, while I’m willing to stand up and talk to whoever I need to in order to make good, healthy food available to the people who can barely afford to eat, all too many families just don’t want to be bothered. They either just don’t care or they’ve given up before they even begin because “You can’t change the way these things work” and “You can’t fight the government/corporations and win”. It’s sad how many people are willing to just sit back and let things be done to them without their consent when they really should be standing up and fighting for what’s right.

      Whatever happened to the ideals the forefathers fought for? They didn’t want us to be a country where we simply had to live subjected to things beyond our control. Now that’s all we do and so few people stand up to fight when they know the way the world is working is wrong. It’s really sad. Hopefully educating the future will make some difference, even if it’s just a small one. I can’t reach every kid, but I can at least reach my community.

  7. Please let your kids know that I am taking their recommendation – I am going to get this from the library today.

    I am sure you are already doing this, but with the kids’ new found interest in avoiding corn syrup, I wonder if they would be into helping to make some things at home – e.g. you mentioned bread, tomato sauce.

    All the best!

    • They love cooking, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d be interested in making much more from scratch. I’ll have to talk to them about it. It’s certainly more cost-effective to make many things from scratch, at least when you look at the difference between made from scratch and the healthy alternatives. Sadly, highly processed foods can still come cheaper than a meal made from scratch, but healthy, whole foods go a lot farther.

      I’ll definitely have to talk to them about making breads and sauces at home. It could be a wonderful experience, especially tomato sauce as the kids want to grow their own tomatoes next year. It would give them something to think about doing with their foods once they’re grown beyond the obvious of eating them raw and cooking them. Thanks for the suggestions!

      Corde and Beekee say they hope you like the movie and they’re glad to have inspired someone! Corde’s especially excited because she thinks of herself as a little activist and now she’s starting to realize that all you have to do to make a change in the world is inspire one person, and she’s just done that. You’ve totally made her day!

      • To Corde, you certainly have inspired me. Hope to meet you some day.

        There is a high cost to all that low price – our health, public health, environment, family farms … sometimes it is overwhelming to think about this but nothing like a garden to make a true difference, one step at a time.

  8. I thought the King Corn documentary was fantastic! If C & B are interested in learning more about the frightening food industry, there is a “Young Reader’s” edition of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Grace really learned a lot from it when we read it. Maybe your local library has a copy? If you want, you can send your address to , and we’ll send you our copy.

    • Sweet! Someone else who has seen the documentary. It’s always good to feel like there are other people out there who share our interests, especially others who have become so much a part of my online life!

      I’ll call the library tomorrow to see if they have a copy. If not, be expecting an e-mail from us. The kids would probably love it. We’ve been on a real food industry kick lately, which I never expected. Then again, they kind of take after their mama on that one so I probably shouldn’t be surprised!

  9. Other than Netflix where else can you find documentaries like all the ones posted? I live in Canada and I thought we had a documentary section for our satelite tv but I looked a few days ago and there is an education section but it doesn’t really have anything that interests me on it. I might have to sign up for Netflix but ive heard from a few ppl around me that said it doenst stream well and freeezes and stuff.
    We have recently been shopping at our local farmers market. I know the beef is grass-fed (i made sure to ask) but to be honest im not sure that all the fruits and veggies are organic or gmo free. Unfortunatly we have had to return to shopping the grocery stores. Limited grocery budgets and what not. There is no way we could get enough food from the market to feed the 4 of us for 2 weeks with only $80 for food. I hate being poor. I hate eating this crappy food. I hate not knowing for sure if we are eating GMO’s or not.
    On a possitive note I quit eating chips 4 months ago. Quit drinking Pepsi 2 months ago and cut WAY back on Tim Hortons coffee. Ive also lost 13 pounds in the 2 months since i quit drinking pop. 7 Tablespoons of sugar in one can (i think thats what i read anyways) I was drinking atleast 1 can a day and during the worst of times i was drinking a 2 Liter bottle a day!!!!!! So glad to be rid of it.
    I really want to check out the King Corn Doc and the one about Bees. I wonder if my library has a documentary section….i will have to look into that.

    • A lot of libraries have a great selection of documentaries. Sometimes if they don’t have them they can call around and pick them up from other libraries, so it never hurts to ask. I’ve even known libraries to pick up a new video if there is enough interest.

      I have all the documentaries linked on Amazon, mostly because of the Amazon Associates program, but also because that’s where I watch them. You can rent them individually, but a lot of them are free on Amazon Prime. It’s a bit steep to register for Amazon Prime (I think it’s something around $80), but you can get the first month or something for free. It could be a good way to check it out and see if it works for you. We’ve never had a problem with it streaming. It’s actually been better than Netflix.

      I totally hear you on eating well. It’s not easy. The six of us generally eat things that aren’t that great for us, a lot of processed foods and not a lot of fruits and veggies, mostly because it’s all we can afford. Being poor is definitely rough. It’s good that you’re starting to improve your diet. I kicked soda for the most part a while ago…but chips are a little harder to let go. One day I swear I’ll find a way to eat healthy.

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