The Corn People

The class started off with Professor Miller entering with bags of junk food, dumping it on the table, and asking the class, “What food on the table would you eat?” Some responded with, “everything!”

Junk food discussed about in class

We took a closer look at the food on the table and the class set out to divide the food products into two different groups; things I would eat and things I would not eat. The labels on the different packages of food were dissected to determine which category they would fall under. Some of the main ingredients found in junk food were lecithin, which is an emulsifier to keep things together, shown below.

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Other ingredients include sugar acting as a sweetener, citric acid acting as a preservative, caramel color for coloring, monosodium glutamate (MSG) for enhanced flavor, niacin for nutrients, oil, and xanthan gum acting as a thickener. We also discussed the different structures of antioxidants such as Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), below on the top, and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), below on the bottom.

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We did not read all the labels on every food product on the table but the ones that were read were put in the things I would eat category; english muffins, tortilla, pita bread, popcorn, yogurt, protein drink, and potato chips.

A saturated fat is a solid at room temperature
which is able to stack while an unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and is not able to stack. Palm oil is present in popcorn which is a saturated fat that gives popcorn its qualities.

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When reading the nutrition label of many foods, sugar came up numerous times in many different forms. Some different types of sugar are disguised as sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, galactose, lactose, high fructose corn syrup, and glucose solids. If all the different types of sugars were combined into one ingredient, then the first ingredient the consumer would come across when reading the nutrition label would be sugar. Most consumers would not buy something with sugar as the number one ingredient, so companies disguise the ingredient by giving it different names used on the nutrition label. Alternatives to sugar available are artificial sweeteners such as Splenda (top), which is sucralose, NutraSweet (middle), which is aspartame, and Sweet’N Low (bottom), which is saccharin.

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There is a lot of hype about high fructose corn syrup and how it is bad for a person’s health, but sugar is just as bad as high fructose corn syrup and there is no health benefit for using sucrose over high fructose corn syrup.

A question about genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) came up in our discussion about ingredients. The bigger question of “What is modification?” was asked. Most things we come in contact with in our everyday life are modified, so should everything be labeled as modified then? Even the Native Americans were using modified corn because the crop had been selected for particular genes. Is it modification or selection?

Our discussion turned next to corn. The anatomy of the corn is shown below.

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The main parts of corn are the germ where the oil is, the endosperm, and the kernel. The yellow color of the kernel is due to zeaxanthin, whose structure is shown below.

Zeaxanthin

The other part of the corn is the cob. Some fates of the cob are feed for animals, furfural which is an organic compound used in renewable chemical feedstock, and ethanol for biofuel. There are many resources used to grow corn such as tractors, nitrogen, fertilizers, and acid rain. Fertilizers are very important in the growing process and can mainly be found in the form of ammonium nitrate. The Haber process is how nitrogen is fixed and how the fertilizer is made in modern times. The combination of nitrogen and hydrogen along with heat and pressure gives ammonia used to make the fertilizer.

The discussion of being in favor of continuing or ceasing government corn subsides was embarked upon next. Everyone came up with a reason for either side of the argument. Some of the ideas brought up that were in favor of continuing the government corn subsides are that it helps farmers financially and if it were ceased it would bankrupt farmers, overproducing corn does not mean obesity, and produces biofuels. There were many more arguments in favor of ceasing the government corn subsides such as it makes food bad for people’s health, hurts farmers because they are dependent on the government, does not allow for fair trade, is not sustainable economically, supports animal cruelty by being able to put animals in small spaces and give them feed from corn to eat, creates food deserts, results in a loss of biodiversity, and results in being dependent on foreign markets for other crops.

There were many different topics discussed in class that ultimately helped us answer two questions for ourselves: (1) What could you make at home—and what would the difference be? And, (2) What is food (and what isn’t food)?”

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