Voices 05/08/2013

No Corn, No World

Cristoforo Colombo discovered America. This is known to all. Among the many implications of this event we can remember one that has slowly changed the eating habits of entire populations, the agri-food chains of the past and modern societies, cultures and landscapes of many rural areas of the planet. Columbus brought with him some innocent seeds with multiple properties: they were corn kernels.

Today this plant could be considered the king-food, not so much for its direct consumption, but for his presence - as derived or transformed - in a myriad of food and non. Obviously not in its classic form of cob good and sweet.

Where do we find this amazing cereal?! Is inserted as a hidden ingredient in many products, is one of the most important foods in the diet of cattle, pigs, poultry and are therefore as an element turned into meat, milk, cheese and eggs. It is present as a sweetener in almost all soft drinks in the form of syrup of glucose / fructose is added to cookies, chips and fried products in general and pre-cooked food, milk powder, in starch, in sauces like ketchup and mayonnaise and vast majority of candy and sweets.

There are also many ingredients extracted from corn all the strange name that appear in many labels of packaged foods: modified and unmodified starch, maltodextrin, ascorbic acid, lactic acid, monosodium glutamate, xanthan gum, and the list is still long.

The corn also enters into the constitution of non-food products in which it is impossible to see, in the first instance: bioethanol, bio-degradable plastics, toothpaste, cosmetics, diapers, batteries, and even some members of floor and wall construction.

Zea maize L., belonging to the grass family, is derived from a wild plant called teosinte that is still present in some areas of Central America. Long before this plant in 1492 and changed the pre-Columbian civilizations began to remove the grains, eat one side and sow the remainder. The slow but inexorable process of selection has led to more and more productive plants and close to the corn we know today. Then came the hybrid seeds and then the technologies for the creation of genetically modified organisms, but that's another story ...

From 1492 corn has conquered the rest of the world and today is one of the most cultivated plants and studied on the planet.

Already in the past was used for multiple purposes: if dehydrated could be accumulated or processed into flour, excellent feed for animals, a source of textile fibers, fuel for heating and if fermented ingredient to obtain beer and whiskey.

He had a considerable importance in society as maize seeds (easily portable and almost indestructible) were replaced often to money, the same corn was then the food for the slaves who came from Africa.

From the ecological point of view the corn has conquered the world not only in entering fields (supplanting traditional crops), but also in our pantries (as minor ingredient of many agro-products). As we have seen, is also entered in the productive sectors distant from the food sector.

But we must not forget that the exploitation of man by other living beings is not one-way. When the ancient inhabitants of Central America began to choose and sow the corn kernels the destinies of this plant and man were intertwined and you are no longer separate. Today, the corn no longer exists in the wild, research and human selection have created a domesticated plant so as not to be capable of self-propagating.

If our supermarkets are filled with a multitude of products and stalls are always full of meat we owe it to corn. This agri-food chain has obviously also an ecological cost: corn occupies a lot of ground and almost all become animal feed, consume plenty of water and requires large amounts of energy to be cultivated. The man has created a corn-dependent food chain.

The plant needs human intervention to continue to propagate and we can not live without her, in a few years the corn came halfway around the world thanks to the work and the ingenuity of man.

di Francesco Presti