Saturday, October 24, 2020

My students are watching 'King Corn' for extra credit on National Food Day 2020

Happy National Food Day! For this year's celebration, I am taking a break from my five year project of blogging about "Food, Inc." on this day. It's only a slight break, as I am instead writing about a movie my students have been able to use for extra credit in addition to the assignment on "Food, Inc.," "King Corn."

I created the worksheet below because the YouTube uploads of "Food, Inc." I have used for my students while they take my courses remotely were blocked in the U.S., something I expected would happen eventually. However, the upload of "King Corn" remained, so I used two existing worksheets for inspiration, rewriting some of the questions and substituting my own for the rest to cover topics I found more important. As soon as I completed it, I found a new upload of "Food, Inc." at that I could use, so I didn't have to change the assignment or the test questions based on it (The site also has a upload of Chasing Ice so I can continue using that film as well as long as the pandemic persists). Still, I'm an environmentalist, so I won't waste what I made. I substituted the "King Corn" worksheet below for the original extra credit opportunity, a one-page essay worth 8 points. The students have a structured assignment worth two more points out of all this!

Enough introduction. Here's the assignment.


In this lab session, you will watch King Corn (Available on Amazon. If you don't have Amazon, there is an uploaded version on YouTube), the Peabody Award winning 2007 movie directed by Aaron Woolf about best friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis and what they learned about the food system when they returned to the small Iowa town where two of their great-grandfathers lived to grow corn. As you watch the movie, answer the questions beginning on the next page. After the video is over, find the best examples you saw from the show of each of the five concepts below and write them in the blanks on this page. You must answer all questions, including the ones on this page, for the full ten points. The five questions below are worth one point total. Questions 1-18 are worth nine points total, one-half-point each.

A value expressed and a decision made based on that value.

Everything is connected to everything else.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Everything must go somewhere.

Nature knows best.

Program description from IMDB: King Corn is a feature documentary about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America's most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat-and how we farm.

(Follow over the jump for the rest of the worksheet.)


1. Why is Ian Cheney's and Curt Ellis's generation more likely to die sooner than their parents?

2. At the beginning of the film, Ian and Curtis have their hair tested. What is the source of most of the carbon in their hair?

3. Name at least five foods that use corn or ingredients made from corn. Which one did you find the most surprising? Answer both parts of the question.

4. What were Ian and Curt trying to find out when they moved to Iowa?

5. How much money were Curt and Ian told they would be paid for their one acre of corn?

6. How did the farm subsidy program work before 1973? How did it work after 1973, when Richard Nixon's agricultural secretary, Earl Butz, changed the philosophy of the U.S. farm program? Answer both parts of the question.

7. How many bushels of corn can an acre produce now? How much more is that than 100 years ago?

8. Give examples of at least three reasons for increased corn production as the film mentions them.

9. What are the three main commercial uses of corn and the percentages of the corn crop for each of them?

10. What percentage of all antibiotics in the U.S. were used in agriculture when the film was made?

11. How much waste do 100,000 cattle produce?

12. How much saturated fat is in a steak of corn-fed beef? A steak of grass-fed beef? Answer both parts of the question.

13. Why is most beef in this country corn-fed?

14. Why do Americans use high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener?

15. How is today's corn different from the original corn from Mexico?

16. What are the health effects of drinking food products with high-fructose corn syrup? Name at least two.

17. How important are government subsidies to keeping corn growing profitable?

18. What percentage of our income do modern Americans spend on food? What percentage did our grandparents spend on food?

In case you didn't figure it out, the theme is how Americans' desire for cheap food is hurting our health.

I conclude the YouTube upload of the documentary Popcornflix at YouTube. Happy watching and happy Food Day!

Engrossing and eye-opening, King Corn is a fun and crusading journey into the digestive tract of our fast food nation where one ultra-industrial, pesticide-laden, heavily-subsidized commodity dominates the food pyramid from top to bottom - corn.
I'll get back to "Food, Inc." next year. After that, I might switch to "The Biggest Little Farm," which earned seven nominations at the 2019 Critics' Choice Documentary Awards and won Best Cinematography at the 2019 Critics' Choice Documentary Awards. The Critics' Choice Association will announce this year's nominees on Monday and I plan on covering them on November 1, 2020. Stay tuned.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Different account, same spam, so I'll just repeat myself: "Your off-topic spam isn't entertaining enough for me to keep, so I'm deleting it. Bye!"