Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coming of the Corn

As I write this late on Friday night, MSNBC is having a ball ridiculing an article on the website of televangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network: on it, CBN employee Kimberly Daniels makes some crackpot assertions about Halloween candy being literally possessed by demonic entities:

"Most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches," Daniels wrote. "I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference."

"Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats," she wrote. "It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon."

MSNBC, not surprisingly, is treating CBN like they're nuts - which, I admit, they certainly are - but the snarky intellectuals at MSNBC are too much of a rationalist-skeptic bunch to even entertain the notion that something really could be possessed by some sort of spirit.

Myself, I tend to live in a world-view not unlike that of the Algonquin Tribe and their "Manitou" concept, one where everything is haunted by a very real and very tangible living spirit - trees, rocks, birds, dirt, pencils, shoes, laptops, rutabagas, etc. Not only all things, but all classifications of things and components of things, and components of the components. And so on. (It's really not as maddening as it sounds.)

But even without opening that philosophical can of nightcrawlers, there is one instance where CBN's fear of eating food possessed by spirits may clearly be justified.

It's called corn.

We've previously discussed here the horrors of Kentucky corn implanted with human genes being experimentally genetically modified right here in the commonwealth. This is frightening enough in itself to keep a person wide-eyed at night, but that's actually just the tip of the genetically modified iceberg. According to some sources, over 80% of all corn/maize in the United States of America is genetically modified. If you've been trying to avoid eating it, you might as well give up. GMO corn is literally everywhere.

But the omnipresence of GMOs in our nation's corn gets even more disturbing when you consider the omnipresence of corn in our nation's diet. Two scientists at the University of Hawaii recently made a shocking discovery when they chose to analyze the most commonly-eaten foods in America: McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King. Using stable isotope analysis, they found that corn molecules were everywhere, in the burgers (corn-fed meat plus corn used as filler) in the buns (corn used in the flour), in the chicken sandwiches (corn-fed meat plus corn used as filler), in the french fries (coated in cornstarch and cooked in corn oil), even in the soft drinks (High Fructose Corn Syrup)! They didn't do Taco Bell, but if they had, needless to say, the ubiquitous corn tortillas would have made everything a forensic nightmare.

Most GMO corn is circulating freely in our food chain with little or no testing - in most cases, some paid lab shill force-fed the stuff to some rats, and if they didn't immediately drop dead or start bursting out with instant bladder cancer, then the corn was given a green light for you and me and children and babies and pets to eat. If someone finds out later that GMO corn causes some sort of zombie disease that takes decades to show up, it'll be too late for us because we're all devouring the stuff every single day of our lives without even knowing it.

Even the bourbon I'm sipping as I type these words is made from corn.

And just what is corn, anyway? That's a good question, and the short answer is that no one seems to know for sure. As columnist Roger Matile has observed, "For something so valuable and yet so common, corn is one of the nation's historical mysteries".

Corn is especially suited to genetic experimentation because of its rapid ability to grow, to hybridize, and to mutate. Unlike most other plants, a cross will show up in the very next generation. Native Americans were the first to "genetically modify" corn in the literal sense, by planting the kernels with deliberation in separate rows, observing which specimens gave the best results, and subsequently increasing production of those samples which had the most desirable attributes.

Scientists are still undecided about just what corn is, and where it came from. Mary Eubanks of Duke University believes ancient humans actually invented corn by interbreeding two varieties of wild grasses. Eubanks believes that Tripsacum dactyloides (Eastern gamagrass) and Zea diploperennis, a perennial variety of Teosinte (a tall annual grass found in Mexico) were crossed to create the original Maize.

There is no clear chain of evolution of corn to be found in the fossil record. Corn as we know it does not seem to have existed until after the Pleistocene era - seemingly, it just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The oldest corn evidence we have is actually quite sketchy - a specimen of alleged 80,000-year-old fossilized corn pollen, found buried 200 feet beneath the surface of Mexico City. Ears of popcorn, 5,600 years old, were found in Bat Cave, New Mexico. Archaeologists opened tombs in Peru and found kernels of popcorn that were 1,000 years old. They were so well preserved that they still popped when cooked. Remnants of corn from the year 400 have been found in Southern Ohio, near the Kentucky-Ohio border and the ever-spooky Ohio River.

The modern-day proponents of the cult of corn are everywhere, even in Kentucky. The Kentucky Corn Growers Association website seems innocuous enough at first glance, but then you realize that they're prominently linking to Sweet Surprise, a pro-HFCS ad campaign that goes beyond shameless in sheer blatant lies and disinformation. (You've seen their TV ads, which invariably portray pro-HFCS people as highly intelligent and happy, while they patiently try to educate an anti-HFCS person who is portrayed as irrational, uninformed, and just plain dumb. The ads are total "Straw man" fallacy, misrepresenting the anti-HFCS position, and then proceeding to argue with and tear down this false position.)

And then you start noticing troubling little things on the site, like prominent corporate logos for some of the most evil nature-wrecking entities on the planet, like DuPont, Syngenta and Monsanto. Ugh. Seeing Kentucky farmers openly and cheerfully endorsing these cynical and toxic polluters makes me want to hurl my corn-based dinner.

Sounds depressing, I know. And on a certain level, it is. But in the bigger picture, maybe, just maybe, the cornification of Earth is all part of the plan. Sir James Frazer, in his landmark tome The Golden Bough, observes:

Dionysus was not the only Greek deity whose tragic story and ritual appear to reflect the decay and revival of vegetation. In another form and with a different application the old tale reappears in the myth of Demeter and Persephone. Substantially their myth is identical with the Syrian one of Aphrodite (Astarte) and Adonis, the Phrygian one of Cybele and Attis, and the Egyptian one of Isis and Osiris. In the Greek fable, as in its Asiatic and Egyptian counterparts, a goddess mourns the loss of a loved one, who personifies the vegetation, more especially the corn, which dies in winter to revive in spring.

The oldest literary document which narrates the myth of Demeter and Persephone is the beautiful Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which critics assign to the seventh century before our era... It has been generally recognised, and indeed it seems scarcely open to doubt, that the main theme which the poet set before himself in composing this hymn was to describe the traditional foundation of the Eleusinian Mysteries by the goddess Demeter.

But there is yet another and a deeper secret of the mysteries which the author of the poem appears to have divulged under cover of his narrative. He tells us how, as soon as she had transformed the barren brown expanse of the Eleusinian plain into a field of golden grain, she gladdened the eyes of Triptolemus and the other Eleusinian princes by showing them the growing or standing corn. When we compare this part of the story with the statement of a Christian writer of the second century, Hippolytus, that the very heart of the mysteries consisted in showing to the initiated a reaped ear of corn, we can hardly doubt that the poet of the hymn was well acquainted with this solemn rite, and that he deliberately intended to explain its origin in precisely the same way as he explained other rites of the mysteries, namely by representing Demeter as having set the example of performing the ceremony in her own person. Thus myth and ritual mutually explain and confirm each other.

Let me repeat what he just said, and place it in bold face: the very heart of the mysteries consisted in showing to the initiated a reaped ear of corn.

Frazer goes on to systematically deconstruct the generally-held belief that Demeter represents an "Earth-Mother" archetype, and insists that Demeter is actually a personification of corn (and also barleycorn); a Corn Goddess, seeking domination over the Earth and its limitations, seeking to transcend the soil to which it is tethered. "The conclusion is confirmed by the monuments; for in ancient art Demeter and Persephone are alike characterised as goddesses of the corn by the crowns of corn which they wear on their heads and by the stalks of corn which they hold in their hands. Again, it was Demeter who first revealed to the Athenians the secret of the corn and diffused the beneficent discovery far and wide through the agency of Triptolemus, whom she sent forth as an itinerant missionary to communicate the boon to all mankind."

In more modern times, the idea of the Corn Goddess is still with us. In Germany to this day, corn is commonly personified under the folkloric name of "The Corn-mother". When the wind causes waves to ripple across a field of corn, the farmers say, "There goes the Corn-mother" or "The Corn-mother is walking through the corn." She is believed to be present in the handful of corn which is left standing last on the field. Depending on local custom, she is either revered by turning that last corn stalk into a ritual doll, or she is exorcised and driven out like a demon.

Frazer continues his scholarly ponderings with a section entitled "The Spirit of the Corn embodied in Human Beings". Which brings us back to where we came in. Says Frazer:

"The spirit of the corn manifests itself not merely in vegetable but also in human form; the person who cuts the last sheaf or gives the last stroke at threshing passes for a temporary embodiment of the corn-spirit, just as much as the bunch of corn which he reaps or threshes".

In other words, you are what you kill, and you are what you eat.

That phrase, "you are what you eat", has its origins in the Anthelme Brillat-Savarin quote, "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es (Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are)". Many readers may recognize this as the maxim of the TV show Iron Chef, shown at the beginning of each episode. In the 21st century, we now know that, all allegory aside, we really are literally made of what we have eaten.

If you want a real scare this Halloween, look no further than the documentary film King Corn, in which two researchers set out to find out why corn is taking over the country, invading practically every food Americans consume. They had their hair analyzed by a lab and discovered that corn was even detected in their hair. They learned that the corn found in almost all processed foods is actually "not fit for human consumption", and yet we're eating it, and so are the animals we eat.

High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is the key ingredient to everything from soft drinks to candy, is made from this same low grade corn that was supposed to be classified inedible. The makers of King Corn could not, try though they did, gain access to any corn syrup factory to view the circumstances under which it is made. In other words, it's essentially as much a guarded and classified state secret as Area 51. You, as a member of the public, are not allowed to see how High Fructose Corn Syrup is manufactured even though you are forced to eat it every day of your life.

Rutgers professor Chi-Tang Ho has proven that soft drinks sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup are up to ten times richer in dangerous carbonyl compounds, including the mysterious methylglyoxal. Carbonyl compounds are highly elevated in the bloodstreams of diabetics, and are blamed for diabetic complications such as foot ulcers, nerve damage, and decreased vision.

Since almost all candies now contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, CBN's Pat Robertson and Kimberly Daniels are inadvertently speaking a sort of truth when they say that Halloween candy is possessed by spirits. That ancient spirit of the Corn Goddess is spreading to all that it touches, and it has very nearly touched everything. You, me, Pat Robertson, we're all part corn. It's in our hair. It's in our cells. Our brains. Our nerves. Our molecular structure. Our atomic structure. All living things are increasingly infected by the presence of corn, for better or for worse. And it's too late to stop it now even if we could. It may or may not truly impact us in our own lifetime, but the long-term difference it will make in the future trajectory of life on Earth is immense.

Like a virus and its host, corn has successfully used us as a means to enable it to multiply and spread itself.

To what ends? Probably nothing more sinister than that age-old simple reason for doing anything: survival. Corn is not only surviving and thriving, it is closer to world domination than any other plant in nature, thanks in part to our own inexplicable efforts to promulgate it. We're turning the entire planet into a corn domain, and we don't even know why we're doing it; we're just doing it because something is compelling us to do so. We don't ask questions, we just plough the fields and scatter.


Ban HFCS said...

This post is a thing of beauty. To go from demonically possessed Halloween candy to Dionysus to McDonalds to genetically modified corn (and how ubiquitous it is) and then back to Demon Candy with the eloquence, grace, and ironic wit demonstrated here is a work of art. Thank you for a terrific blog entry.

Anonymous said...

I'm always ripe for an old-fashioned demonic possession especially of the corn induced variety.

Durning said...

first thing I've ever read that makes me want to give up corn altogether.

Melissa said...

The points raised toward the end of this post are explored at some length in "The Botany of Desire," a documentary on PBS based on the book of the same title by Michael Pollan. Pollan presents evidence supporting the idea that plant species may be adopting traits which make propagation by humans more likely.

Just pass me the candy corn, and hail Demeter!!! :-)

Melissa said...


The humble attempt at humor in my previous comment was in no way intended to make light of the very serious issues addressed in this post.

We have not learned that tinkering with genetic code can have disastrous results. Genetically-modified ("Bt") corn pollen seriously endangered the Monarch Butterfly:
and I would not be surprised if GMO's weren't a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder threatening the Honeybee. The other children of Earth deserve so much better than to be canaries in our coal mine--and many are necessary pollinators for the rest of the food we eat. Of course, we also have no idea what the longterm effect of GMO's on the human animal could be--nor are we able to discern from which source crop any harm came.

I still hail Demeter and her Eleusinian Mysteries--but, please, let the reaped corn be heirloom and Victory Gardens abound. As well as hitting evil companies in the pocket-book, a continuing public outcry against GMO's is much better than doing nothing toward preserving what we have left.

wildcatbox859 said...

you're either insane or a genius.