Because I Said So 7/22 ‘Dear Barack: Please save the corn farmers, just for me’

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And you thought gas prices were bad. Oh wait, you just wait, until the repercussions of the Corn Belt drought hit supermarket shelves. If you think that means merely paying more for corn on the cob, think again. It’s not just fresh corn that’ll become scarce, it’s that the price of everything containing corn and corn byproducts — like high-fructose corn syrup — will skyrocket.

Don’t use corn syrup, you say? Start reading labels, my friend, it’s ubiquitous. And not just in obvious things like soda, ice cream, candy and cookies. It’s in pickles. Salad dressing. Cottage cheese. Cereal. Lunchmeat. Bread. Ever wonder why diabetes is on the rise? It’s all on the labels.

Beyond food, we’ll be paying more for an array of products containing corn byproducts: Ethanol. Baby powder. Furniture polish. Cat food. Dog food. Even skateboards, kitty litter and body bags — yes body bags, and 100 percent biodegradable ones, no less — contain corn byproducts, such as starch, husks, cobs and silk.

I must admit, the body bags surprised me. The manufacturers claim they decompose within 90 days of burial. I don’t know if I’m creeped out or intrigued. Upon some on-the-spot reflection, maybe it’d be a much more sustainable approach to just bag us up when we’re spent, sink us into the ground, and let nature dispose of us as nature always has. Maybe plant a tree over the graves to help the environment.

Or maybe plant more corn?

Bottom line, when last year’s dwindling corn supply is exhausted and there’s not enough coming in this year to replenish it, we’ll be paying more for everything. A corn shortage will cause far more financial strain than rising gasoline prices ever did. Become a corn detective right now and start reading labels. If you want to continue to buy those products containing corn syrup and byproducts, you’d better start putting away a little extra money every month now.

Me, I became a corn detective for an entirely different reason. In my ongoing quest for good health, I discovered that our food supply is laced with high fructose corn syrup. I check labels before purchasing, and if it contains corn syrup, I put it back unless there’s no other possible option. When the Great Corn Shortage hits, I’ll fare better than others who will get socked in the gut at the supermarket checkout, because I’ve already weeded most items containing corn syrup out of my life. But there is one thing that’ll hurt me. Bad.


I’m a popcorn fiend. I have a problem. I admit it. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little sad that the tight economy forces my husband and I to keep separate households during the week so he can work in the Silicon Valley (Side note: If anyone needs a brilliant software engineering manager locally, let me know. You’ll become my new best friend), I console myself with the knowledge that I can have my big bowl of popcorn for dinner without any whining.

Let’s ponder that for a moment. Popcorn is right up there with Husband.

Sick, sick, sick. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.

And let me tell you how much I’m concerned about that when I’m leaning back in my recliner with a warm bowl of popcorn drizzled in virgin olive oil. One word: Not.

Popcorn (and of course, only the bulk organic kind) is a staple in my diet. It’s the perfect snack, and on a weeknight, dinner even. It’s a whole grain, it contains no added sugar, salt or chemicals. It’s a complete food that can be found in nature and hasn’t been adulterated by human hands. It’s high in fiber. It’s cheap. It’s filling. And so yummy.

And now it may become scarce.

I’m so already all over this. I’m going to start filling a bag, or two, or three, every time I go to the Davis Food Co-op, and start banking it in the freezer. That will be my vault, and popcorn will be my gold. You have been warned, people. If you want popcorn, you’re going to have to beat me to it.

While I’m squirreling away all the popcorn I can get my hot little hands on, I have a message for Barack Obama (Yeah, I know, you didn’t see that one coming. I’m wily that way.): It would be spectacular if you fast-tracked a federal irrigation project in the Corn Belt states. You can draw upon California’s irrigation templates in the valley, which is essentially a desert if not for the irrigation. Not only will it put people to work constructing the canals, it’ll yank the corn farmers from the brink of ruin, and not a moment too soon.

It’s doable, Barack. That beautiful Mississippi River, with all its tributaries, runs right through the heart of the region. Mother Nature has already provided the aqueduct.

I discovered the need for Corn Belt irrigation while talking about the drought recently with an Illinois home boy — an Illibois, if you will — who said the folks back home are really suffering. He explained that corn farmers rely exclusively on summer downpours to irrigate the fields. They literally don’t have irrigation systems like we do here in California because until now, water was abundant. Suddenly, it’s not. And may never be again.

Think about it, oh Favorite President of Mine. This horrific drought may not be a fluke. This may be the beginnings of permanent climate change. Those farmers may be facing the same or worse next year, and forever after. And as the corn farmers suffer, so suffers the rest of the country, and the world. The concentric economic disaster will be epic. So, please — launch a federal irrigation project, pronto. Those farmers need help.

And I need my popcorn.

And if you orchestrate the whole thing just to benefit me personally, I don’t have a problem with that.

— Email Debra at; read more of her work at and

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