In Native American tradition, beans, squash and maize (or corn) were planted and grown together, supporting each other in their life-cycles and providing the foundation of a balanced diet offering carbohydrates, proteins and vegetable fats to their cultivators. The three crops were known as the “three sisters.”
Those days, however, are as long gone as buffalos wildly roaming the plains. Michael Pollan’s opus, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, detailed the role of commodity corn in processed food and helped spark a chain reaction of impassioned documentaries and urgent op-ed pieces. As Pollan argues, spurred by government subsidies, US industrial farms grow more than 10 billion bushels of corn a year, far more than we can possibly eat, which leads directly to the mass consumption of corn-based fast food and high fructose corn syrup, which, in turn, leads directly to obesity, diabetes and numerous other health hazards.
Adding insult (and poor taste) to injury is another disturbing development which Daniel Patterson points out in a post at San Francisco Magazine: The corn that we eat has lost its flavor, falling victim to America’s drift toward sweet, heavy-handed, one-dimensional tastes.
The problem is that corn is pollinated in a way that makes it easy for species to cross strains–which is why it’s the most hybridized plant on the planet. As Patterson explains, there was a time when all corn was open-pollinated, which meant that farmers could save their seeds from year to year, rotating varieties based on their flavor and their ability to thrive in a particular place. When seed companies began to introduce sweeter, higher-yielding varieties in the mid–20th century, the old strains gradually fell away and were replaced by hybrids patented in labs. Now, most corn farmers grow one of the supersweet varieties and the corn many of us remember from childhood is available only from farmer’s markets and organic farm stands.
The good news is that with a little open space and reasonable growing conditions, most people can grow their own corn. The Victory Seeds catalog offers inexpensive seeds for dozens of historical varieties along with growing instructions and recipes.
If you’re like me and, sadly, live without any outdoor space, then console yourself with the corn at your local farmer’s market, food co-op or CSA. Not sure where to find local fruits and vegetables? Check out Local Harvest’s exhaustive database to find the best organic food grown closest to where you live. Have any good corn recipes? Let us know in the comments field. I’ll publish favorites.
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