Ready or Not #263: Corn and Beyond

Sorry that I have been a little delinquent in writing my articles.  I have been a bit (okay – a LOT) busy lately and I just now found a moment or two to put some thoughts down.  I hope that while I was not posting that you were able to take advantage of the time and read some of my older posts.

My articles are not a chronological account of my life, but rather thoughts and actions that have helped me in my everyday life.  I share with you the kind of things that I feel might help some of you to be better prepared so that you don’t have to experience some of the steep learning curves that I seem to keep having.  Just a thought.

As I was thinking about the last article I wrote, #262: Corn and Costs, and about how the corn crop is really struggling this year because of the drought, I had to laugh.  Not because I think that the drought or a bad crop is funny, but because less than three years ago our problem was too much water!

In 2009 the fields were too wet to plant the corn and then it was too wet to fertilize.  Too wet to physically harvest and then too wet to put into storage.  Having too much water was just too much of a good thing.  And now we are experiencing too much of the opposite – a severe drought.  It’s all just too much.

I also mentioned that even if you didn’t really eat corn that you would still be affected by the poor crop yield this year.  Corn permeates more than just the human diet.  Sure, we eat the corn on the cob, frozen corn and canned corn, but were not the only ones who eat corn.  Corn is in our dog food, cat food, cow food, chicken and turkey food, pig food and just about any other commercial animal feed of all of the other animals that I’ve forgotten about.  Not to mention the silage that farmers make to feed their farm animals.

Now is where it gets really weird.  Corn or corn byproducts, is just about everywhere in our society – and most of the time we just aren’t aware of it.  Dextrose, corn’s simple sugar, can be made into a product that looks and feels a lot like plastic.  You will find it acting as a band that seals food products at the store or it can be used to make a biodegradable container that is used as a plastic substitute.  Corn cobs can be broken down to make a blasting medium (instead of using sand or soda) and it can also be used to make an environmentally friendly insulation that can be used in houses.  Who thinks up this stuff?

We all use cornstarch to thicken our foods, but cornstarch is used in more than just gravies.  Food companies, especially candy companies will use pressed cornstarch as a non-toxic mold that can be re-used and re-molded over and over again.  Cornstarch is also used in food products to keep them from clumping.  A good example of this is salt.

Corn has several types of sugars that are used to sweeten everything from our toothpastes, to sugared drinks, spaghetti sauces and so much more.

Some of the items that you might have never considered as using corn, corn cobs, or corn stalks are: batteries, diapers, cheese, peanut butter, medications, baking powder, white vinegar, charcoal, a variety of household cleaners, finger paint, crayons and rayon (a silk like material).  Corn products are used in the manufacturing of car tires, drywall board, spark plugs, varnish, dental floss, toilet paper, adhesives and a bunch of other everyday products too numerous to mention.  Corn is everywhere.

If you read the labels on food products you will easily find some of these corn products: xanthan gum, ascorbic acid, saccharin, calcium stearate, xylitol, maltodextrin, diglycerides, xylitol and much more.

If you have celiac disease (a miserable disease where you can’t eat gluten or products made from wheat, barley or rye) then corn is your friend and you can be grateful that corn is so readily available and fairly inexpensive.  Maybe readily available, maybe inexpensive – we’ll see.

We also use corn to fuel our cars.  The other day when I was putting gas in my car I noticed a small sticker on the gas pump that stated that the fuel I was pumping had a minimum of 10% ethanol in it.  I remember a couple years back when the price of corn was sky high because most of the corn was going to the creation of ethanol instead of food products.  In our country it raised the grocery bill a bit, but in some countries people were starving because there wasn’t enough corn to ship to the third world countries.  Farmers could get a better price for their corn to make ethanol than for other products and you can’t blame them for wanting to get the higher price for their product.  The sudden craze for ethanol really took people by surprise and it really upset the worldwide corn equilibrium.

Did you know that you can burn corn for fuel?  There are stoves that instead of burning wood pellets, it burns corn kernels – which are nature’s perfect natural little pellets.  It kind of makes me wonder, if you use corn to warm your house does it make your house smell like popcorn all the time?  I don’t know that I would like that.  I like popcorn, but…

I had never thought of corn as being so interesting or versatile before.  I will still eat corn on the cob (I like to eat it raw just picked from the garden), but I will almost feel guilty by composting the cob and stalk for the next year’s garden when it could have gone on to be so much more – like becoming a biodegradable container to freeze some more corn.

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