Enjoy that corn on the cob while you still can

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 2008, Debra LoGuercio, all rights reserved

I first noticed that something was up a couple summers ago, when yellow corn disappeared from the produce section. There was plenty of bland, sugary white corn, but scarcely any nice big golden ears, that can be steamed or barbecued to bright yellow perfection and doused in butter and salt. Now THAT’S corn on the cob, not those wimpy white things.

Corn on the cob is a summertime staple. So how come it has practically disappeared? Ethanol. Yellow corn is more profitable as biofuel than as food, and farmers grow what is most profitable. Wonder why can’t they make biofuel from white corn and leave the yellow corn on the dinner table where it belongs.

Thankfully, there’s still yellow corn on the cob at the county fair booth, providing that simple pleasure of lazing at a rickety picnic table in the midday August sun, picking bits of corn from your teeth, the faint smell of cow manure and cotton candy in the air, the distant rumbling and squeals from the midway. Ah, life is good.

Will there still be corn on the cob at this year’s fair? Who knows.

At least there isn’t a shortage of yellow popcorn. Yet. Popcorn is my very favorite snack. Sometimes it’s also my very favorite lunch. Dinner even. Air-popped and drizzled in olive oil, it’s totally healthy, high in fiber, low in calories, and yes, I am careful to get the organic stuff from the food co-op, so if there’s someone out there who’s already formulating a snippy little “You need to educate yourself about the horrors of popcorn” email… just stop right there. Don’t ruin it for me.

And movies without popcorn? Even more unthinkable than the county fair without the corn booth! But it could happen. Corn-based ethanol is the craze right now in the quest for alternative fuel.

Turns out, however, that the consequences of converting all the corn to ethanol are much more alarming than merely denying me my favorite snack. An sfgate.com article by Cinnamon Stillwell posted on April 2 was a shocker. The gist of this article is that in our rush to find alternative fuel sources to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and reduce auto emissions that contribute to global warming, we’re possibly creating a larger problem than the ones we were trying to solve.

Stillwell contends that the conversion of corn from food to fuel, combined with the displacement of other grain crops, is causing a shortage in the global food supply. Here in the U.S., we are seeing increases in food prices because corn is in short supply not only for food products but for livestock feed. Factor in the increase in food prices due to the rising cost of gasoline, which is required to harvest and transport food, and we’re in quite a pickle.

As the combined rise in fuel and food prices pinches our pocketbooks, Americans will simply have to make their paychecks stretch a little further. People in countries who are surviving on grain produced in the U.S. aren’t so lucky. Their only option is to starve.

An Associated Press story posted on www.livescience.com last October reported that Jean Ziegler, the United Nations' independent expert on food, called the practice of converting food crops into biofuel "a crime against humanity.'' Ziegler said this practice creates food shortages and price increases that cause millions of poor people to go hungry, and he called for a five-year moratorium on biofuel production to halt what he called a growing "catastrophe'' for the poor.

I started Googling around the Internet about ethanol, and one caution after another turned up, including rampant deforestation of rainforests to produce biofuel crops and the large amount of water required to process biofuel. Of course that latter problem may solve itself when mass deforestation accelerates global warming, which melts the polar ice caps, causing worldwide flooding, which in turn provides plenty of water to process more biofuel.

Wonder who’s going to drive all those cars when everybody’s dead? Maybe we won’t be eating Soylent Green, maybe we’ll be pumping it into our tanks.

People! We’re pumping people!

And here’s the kicker: according to an analysis of ethanol production posted on Wikipedia, “the consumption of ethanol to replace current U.S. petroleum use alone would require about 75 percent of all cultivated land on the face of the Earth, with no ethanol for other countries, or sufficient food for humans and animals.”

And I was worried about popcorn.
OUT OF OFFICE COUNTDOWN: 42 weeks until we till the Bush crop under.