King Corn: You Are What You Eat

When Ian Cheney and his best friend Curt Ellis graduated from college they thought they were done with professors and they supposed to feel like they had their whole lives ahead of them, but they just heard some rather disconcerting news. Some day they were going to die, and maybe sooner than they thought. For the first time in American history their generation was at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents. And it was because of what they ate.

So they started to keep track of what they were eating. But they found they needed help making sense of their data. Hair is a continuous recorder, it's a tape recorder of diet. The food that becomes part of your diet will eventually find its way to your hair. So they analyzed their hair and the conclusion was that the carbon in their bodies really originates from corn. We're talking about the corn that's been used as material (high fructose corn syrup), which is going into the foods that we use ubiquitously. We also feed animals with corn and that gets turned into their biomass that we consume.

Ian and Curt had grown up on the coast but for some reason they felt drawn to the midwest. Maybe it was because a long time before there was corn in their hair, there was corn in their genes. By an incredible coincidence Ian and Curt each had a great grandfather in the same tiny county in rural Iowa. Three generations after their great grandparents left they were moving back, to find out how an acre of corn could get from a field in Iowa into their hair.

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