Ethanol is billed as the answer to America’s addiction to foreign oil, but the immense demand for the corn, from which ethanol is made, is also raising prices in supermarkets and restaurants across the nation. The demand to transform corn into ethanol has already doubled the average price for a bushel of corn from $2 to $4.
The corn price increases flow like gravy down the food chain, to grocery stores and menus. The cost of rounded cubed steak at local Harris Teeters is up from $4.59 last year to $5.29 this year, according to TheGroceryGame.com, which tracks prices. The Palm restaurant chain recently raised prices as much as $2 for a New York strip. And so on.
Michael Pollan best summarized our little-known reliance on corn in The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
(Photo: Eduardo Mueses)
Corn is in the coffee whitener and Cheez Whiz, the frozen yogurt and TV dinner, the canned fruit and ketchup and candies, the soups and snacks and cake mixes, the frosting and gravy and frozen waffles, the syrups and hot sauces, the mayonnaise and mustard, the hot dogs and the bologna, the margarine and shortening, the salad dressings and the relishes and even the vitamins. (Yes, it’s in the Twinkie, too.) There are some forty-five thousand items in the average American supermarket and more than a quarter of them now contain corn.This goes for the nonfood items as well: Everything from the toothpaste and cosmetics to the disposable diapers, trash bags, cleansers, charcoal briquettes, matches, and batteries, right down to the shine on he cover of the magazine that catches your eye by the checkout: corn. Even in Produce on a day when there’s ostensibly no corn for sale you’ll nevertheless find plenty of corn: in the vegetable wax that gives the cucumbers their sheen, in the pesticide responsible for the produce’s perfection, even in the coating on the cardboard it was shipped in. Indeed, the supermarket itself–the wallboard and joint compound, the linoleum and fiberglass and adhesives out of which the building itself has been built–is in no small measure a manifestation of corn.
Corn, like the oil it is meant to supplant, is already everywhere; but don’t worry just yet. Rick Tolman, chief executive of the National Corn Growers Association, is convinced that farmers will eventually ride this one-trick pony into the ground: “Farmers have a way of, every time prices go high, they almost always overproduce until they drive down the price to the marginal level where they can’t make any money anymore.” — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER
The Rising Tide of Corn [Washington Post]