Blue corn

I love tortilla chips. Lately we’ve been eating these blue ones. Turns out that blue corn is a bit of niche product. Heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of grain cultivars are enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Small farmers and those targeting the organic market have to get creative to compete with the big boys.

And corn is Big Farming, Inc. America is the King of Corn. The rest of the world calls it maize but it is the same plant. Here in the States we grow corn (Zea mays) on over 90 million acres. That’s almost as big as the entire state of California!

American farms routinely harvest 150 bushels per acre and can approach yields of 200 or more, an astonishing level of productivity that has increased steadily over the last 100 years. Maize is an ancient grain, native to the Americas, and a staple of indigenous peoples’ nutrition for millennia.

These days corn is something else entirely. At least a third of America’s crop goes into the production of ethanol. Ethanol is mixed with gasoline to meet clean-fuel mandates. The industry is subsidized and enjoys strong political support. Biofuels seem appealing until you realize that we are taking FOOD and putting it in our cars. It would be far better to extract fuels from agricultural wastes, for example. Using prime arable land to grow industrial feedstock instead of actual food is not a sustainable practice.

Another one-third of America’s massive corn haul goes to feeding livestock. Meat-based diets require large grain footprints. It takes about 25 kg (55 lbs) of grain to make 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of beef. The ratio is 15:1 for lamb and just under 7:1 for pork. It is between 3:1 and 4:1 for poultry. Now you see why we have 20 billion chickens in the world. Clearly beef (25:1 ratio), other than from small-scale pasture-raised animals, is not sustainable as a global food source.

Of the remaining third about half is exported. Most of the rest goes into making high-fructose corn syrup and other stuff. We eat very little of our corn directly. Our enormous industrial corn production scheme does a pretty poor job of actually feeding people.

The blue corn chips come from Hain Celestial Group. They make a lot of products for the organic market. I could not find any specific information on their sources of blue corn. I’d be interested to know who grows the stuff and where they grow it. I found some links to blue corn farming in New Mexico and blue corn seeds in Arizona and blue corn milling in Montana but I have no idea how my chips get put together.

Guess what? You can buy blue corn seeds at Wal-Mart:

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