By Barbara Kessler

King Corn is a documentary about corn, that staple that comes straight from the gently rolling fields of the beautiful heartland to our dinner table.

king_corn_filmmakers.jpgWell, wait right there. The corn featured in King Corn is not the corn-on-the-cob you remember from last summer, nor is it the buttery side dish that brightens your plate of meatloaf. Rather it is a bitter, protein-deficient, genetically altered “industrialized corn” that has become the king of American agriculture and the nemesis of American diets.

“King Corn” is in limited release, opening at several theaters in San Francisco, Berkeley, Austin, Chicago, Omaha, Corvallis, Ore., Gettysburg, Penn., San Luis Obispo, Seattle and Milwaukee throughout November. Check the film’s website for times and theaters.

But before we dig deeper into the nitty-gritty of corn, a bit about the documentary, which unlike its prime subject, is sweet, homey and full-bodied. King Corn is coming out in limited release this month in several cities after opening in October in selected locales. It tells the tale of two easygoing young guys, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, who decide to trace this dietary staple to its origins in Iowa after learning that their generation may have a shorter life span than their parents, a consequence of America’s fast-food and over-processed diet. The pair, Yale graduates, suspect corn is the culprit after a test of their hair (a dietary time capsule) reveals that their diet, unbeknownst to them, is mainly one of corn.

So they move to Greene, Iowa, a tiny farming town (pop. 1,015), where coincidentally each of them had ancestors, to find out “why we have corn in our hair.” They plant one acre of genetically modified corn, sign up for government subsidies, fertilize with anhydrous ammonia (a given), spray for weeds and harvest the corn – achieving a yield four times the size of what their great granddads could have accomplished. Mission accomplished – if quantity, not quality is the goal.