The squirrels who visit my front yard bird feeder played a bit of a practical joke on me. A tall corn stalk has popped up in the front garden. It stands nearly five feet tall now. Whether it will produce ears of corn remains to be seen. But it’s still August. So there’s time.
I looked up corn on the Internet because I’d read somewhere that it is a form of grass. Here’s what I found from a study of corn genetics at the University of Utah:
“Through the study of genetics, we know today that corn’s wild ancestor is a grass called teosinte. Teosinte doesn’t look much like maize, especially when you compare its kernels to those of corn. But at the DNA level, the two are surprisingly alike. They have the same number of chromosomes and a remarkably similar arrangement of genes. In fact, teosinte can cross-breed with modern maize varieties to form maize-teosinte hybrids that can go on to reproduce naturally.
Scientists study teosinte-maize hybrids and their offspring through the process of genetic archaeology. This process helps geneticists understand what is happening at the DNA level to make teosinte and maize so different. By combining clues from genetics and the archaeological record, scientists have pieced together much of the story of maize evolution.”
Wow. So all that corn growing across America’s heartland, and through which I ride and run every day here in Illinois…is actually a form of glorified grass.
The products that come from corn are so diverse they cannot be listed here. But check this out: 10 products that you did not know were made from corn.
The reason all this runs through my mind is that we take all this stuff so much for granted. This week I rode 38 miles with a group ride and we passed miles upon miles of cornfields. They are green and tall now. Sweet corn is for sale at farm stands everywhere. There will be a big corn boil out in Dekalb soon, and our local high school has a big corn boil to raise money for all the athletic teams.
Everyday citizens take all this for granted. We don’t need to think about corn, as a rule, for our daily existence. But agriculture does. And these massive monocultures we’ve created across the entire United States exist except in exceptionally arid regions.
Corn grows like a weed, essentially. It is a highly refined weed. We’re nudged and coaxed it genetically and companies like Monsanto own the patent on strains of corn that cannot be kept from season to season. Farmers that do so have been sued and impoverished for the simple act of keeping corn seed stock from season to season.
One can see why Monsanto wants to own and enforce its patents on corn. It pumps money into its research programs and wants to protect that return on investment. All to own the rights to a glorified weed. A grass, turned into the princess of farm products. It’s almost a Cinderella story, if you think about it.
Contrast that narrative with another type of “grass.” That would be marijuana. There’s a whole science to growing “weed” as well. It hails by origin from south-central Asia. Yet in many parts of the world, growing marijuana is illegal. Still, people with a penchant to get high took hold of marijuana and turned it into a cash crop that perhaps rivals even corn in its commercial viability.
Because of its illegality due to the fact that marijuana can get you high as fuck, its propagation is often a highly protected secret. And because of that fact, you do not want to stumble on a marijuana plantation guarded by people with guns, which I almost did one time while visiting the Hawaii island of Oahu. I was determined to visit some back country and went for a run-walk up some trails into the mountains. I got lost and wound up walking back through a military base where I pretended to be one of the residents and walked right out the front gate.
Later, while relating this story to a semi-local in Waikiki, he turned to me and said, “Are you fucking crazy? There are pot farms up there and they’ll shoot you in the head if you find them.”
Such is the world of the innocents. I also encountered a fair number of call girls working the streets of Waikiki that day. They seemed too beautiful to be whores, but that’s a naive judgment as well. While running through the streets of Honolulu I was asked point blank whether I’d like oral sex in the alley. And sitting in the Blue Water Cafe, I learned that the stunning woman next to me in the transparent tee-shirt made a very good living in the company of very rich men. She traveled the world and looked the part.
So this world of expectations and illegal activities is always near if you go looking for it. If so moved, I could score a bag of grass this very day with one or two phone calls. Illegal or not, grass is everywhere. Pot is a recreational drug. Michael Phelps got busted using it. NFL and NBA players toke the stuff. There are strains from Jamaica or Hawaii or Turkey that can take the top of your head right off.
I recall smoking some weed back in college days when my buddy handed me a pipe and sat chuckling in the front seat of a 7-11. I took a draw or two and then my head slammed back against the seat. “Like it?” he squealed through squinty eyes. “It’s hashish!”
And later, on the way to a party my friend and I got high in the parking lot and engaged in an impromptu kickboxing match for the fun of it. Some dude walked out in the parking lot and wanted to know what style we practiced. We both stood there laughing like dopes. “We’re high, dude. We don’t practice nothing.”
That was many, many years ago. I have not smoked weed in more than three decades.
But I do eat a lot of corn, and as we’ve learned, corn is a glorified form of weed. The chemical aspects of corn actually have far more influence on our daily lives than anyone might care to admit. Corn syrup is used in sodas, for example, which can make you fat faster than almost any product on earth. Corn syrup and its sugars are more powerful in some ways than crack cocaine, much less pot. Our bodies grow so addicted to the sugars made from corn syrup we cannot eat, sleep or drink without craving them.
So we have to ask which types of weed or grass are really our worst enemies? Is it the illegal kind that makes us high and builds cravings for trays of brownies? Or is it the corn-based products that drive obesity and are the ruination of healthy diets through all the processed foods we ingest by habit and by aisle at the grocery store.
These are things worth considering, because the drugs we choose and the foods we use are often no so far apart in our dependencies. Alchohol causes all sorts of addiction problems, as well as obesity. Yet it’s perfectly legal. But pot? That’s a “gateway drug.”
But things are changing. Now that marijuana is becoming legalized in some states, it might be time to turn around and actually take a look at regulating products like corn instead.
And we might start by telling Monsanto to shove a genetically modified corn cob right up its ass, as they did in some European countries that have banned GMOS like certain brands of corn because they can spread and cause strange effects in the plant and human population. These countries are standing up to the unpredictable and possibly dangerous side effects of GMOs in plants and the food we eat.
It is indeed a funny world when our formerly legalized and beloved plants are being stopped at the borders of countries who consider it an enemy. Yet formerly illegal plants like marijuana are suddenly being embraced by nations the world over, and hemp products too, which can be useful for manufacturing and energy, to name a few.
Whether we we like it or not, we’re all just running through grass of one kind or another. Might as well enjoy the ride, huh?