If you’re going to talk about poverty, food, and the environment in the
United States, you might as well start in the Corn Belt.
This fertile area produces most of the country’s annual corn harvest of
more than 10 billion bushels, far and away the world’s largest such
haul. Where does it all go? The majority — after accounting for
exports (nearly 20 percent), ethanol (about 10 percent, and climbing),
and excess (another 10 percent) — anchors the world’s cheapest food
supply in purchasing-power terms.
Our food system is shot through with corn. It feeds the animals that
feed us: more than 50 percent of the harvest goes into domestic animal
operations. About 5 percent flows into high-fructose corn syrup, adding
a sweet jolt to soft drinks, confections, and breakfast cereal. All
told, it’s a cheap source of calories and taste. Yet all this
convenience comes with a price — and not just an environmental one.