>Tough Questions and Good Discourse on the Iowa Corn Tour

>I’ve had many incredible experiences since I began blogging three years ago, opportunities to have conference calls with Katie Couric, to interview Olympic athletes and diet personalities, to have dinner with Rocco DiSpirito, lunch with Marcela Valladolid, and to meet the Duchess of York. The world of social media is still young and untamed, and as a result, I’ve enjoyed access to people I never could have met.

But not one of these press junkets were as unique and important as the trip I just took with the Iowa Corn Growers Association because I got some much needed answers on the food we put in our mouths. A trip during which my travel costs (airfare and hotel) were paid for by the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

Our action-packed agenda was filled with thrilling and fun experiences, but, as far as I’m concerned, they were not the important parts of the trip. We rode in an ethanol-fueled pace car on the Iowa Speedway at 107 miles per hour. We sat in a $300,000 combine, the tractors of the future, as it harvested a row of seed corn. But fast cars and big machines were not the reasons I went on the trip, and they’re not the memories that will linger with me.

I traveled to Iowa to get some answers, to learn about corn production, and better understand this ingredient that is so prevalent in our pantries. I’ve seen Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation. I’ve read Food Matters and Food Rules. I worry about our food supply, about its safety, and the growth in obesity in America. I try to keep abreast of the issues, but I have an undergraduate degree in European History and a graduate degree in marketing. I am no scientist. I am a mother and a passionate foodie. I wanted to get information straight from the source so I headed off to Iowa, armed with questions.

Questions like:

  • Why do so many farmers choose to farm corn?
  • How much more money do you make from corn than you would make growing tomatoes or green peppers?
  • Do you receive subsidies from the government?
  • Why do you think the number of food borne illnesses seems to be growing every year?
  • If your genetically modified corn seeds keep yielding more corn, year after year, why don’t you just plant less? Why do we need to keep growing more and more corn? 
  • It seems wrong that cattle should eat so much grain. Shouldn’t they be fed primarily grass?

My questions were naive. Basic. Innocent. Probably insulting. But I imagine they were the questions of thousands of other mothers, and I asked them like my children ask me questions. Relentlessly, doggedly, and without fear of pressing on until it all made sense.

I expected stock answers. I expected hostile stares. I was even prepared for anger as I asked, asked, asked.
But everyone I met was eager to answer me. Farmers and farmers’ wives happily subjected to my interrogation, explaining their livelihood, their decisions, and teaching me about the corn industry in America. Of course some answers were more full of spin than others, but just as many were honest and eager to talk, happily telling me about their families, their tax returns, and their business plans, things I would be embarrassed to ask my neighbors about. Over and over again, people encouraged me to keep on asking my questions, insisting that they had nothing to hide.

I arrived in Iowa thinking that the corn my kids devour slathered with butter was at the heart of all the debate. I came home able to tell my family about seed corn and the role it plays in gas, processed food, cattle, pigs, and dozens of other everyday products.

I have over ten pages of notes, scrawled while walking in corn fields, cattle yards, and the race track. There were hundreds of tweets today with the hashtag #IACornTour, sharing links, recommending movies and continuing the discourse. I want to take the weekend to digest it all and write one or two posts next week, sharing what I saw and learned.

Keep sharing your links with me, your thoughts, your questions as you have been on Twitter. Our voices are being heard. This is the beauty of blogging, of social media. We’re a powerful force in the politics of feeding our families. Let’s keep the discussion going.

11 Responses to >Tough Questions and Good Discourse on the Iowa Corn Tour

  1. >As someone who I trust (and love) and a blogger who actually got a chance to get to the heart of some serious questions about corn manufacturing (good on you) I am truly looking forward to reading your thoughts on this ever confusing subject, Vanessa.

  2. >How very cool. Farmers are the best. Don't you wish everyone could ride in a combine with a farmer for an hour. All their fears would be put to rest! Can't wait to read more.

  3. >Ditto to This Full House. You're a thinker and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you report on. I'll be honest- I know sugar is sugar but avoiding HFCS makes it easier to cut down. It's a lot harder to romanticize in the way that I've elevated other types. It's also disturbing to me that it's in everything. I want to support farmers but I'd rather support a diversified crop structure/see more self-sustaining, balanced fruits and vegetables grown domestically rather than fields on fields on fields of corn and soy beans.

  4. >I had an invite to this trip & I was skeptical to go. If it had not been on the heels of BlogHer I might have made it out to Iowa to join you. I look forward to reading the answers to the questions I most likely would have asked 🙂 xo

  5. >Your post reminds me of when my cousin from Alaska came here to Iowa. He thought all the fields were full of corn for human consumption. He didn't realize that field corn and sweet corn are two different things.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip to Iowa and I'm looking forward to your future posts also.

  6. >You were in Iowa & didn't let me know? OK, so I understand that it was a press trip, but still…

    🙂

    I love when people come to Iowa with one perception and leave with a totally different one!

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