Corn's versatility part of New World's lore

Corn certainly has positive impacts on society, but there are also claims of negative impacts.


Archaeologists suggest corn, or maize, was domesticated from wild grass known as teosinte around 10,000 years ago in Mexico. Eventually, explorers introduced this agricultural treasure to the Old World.

Historically, corn ensured survival. For instance, Native Americans were dependent on this life-sustaining crop. Some tribes practiced the yearly Green Corn Ceremony, emphasizing environmental and agricultural renewal and expressing gratitude for a plentiful harvest, which is still celebrated today.

This staple continues to nourish people and animals because it is affordable and wholesome — classified as a grain, vegetable and fruit. Corn thrives on every continent except Antarctica. The top corn-producing countries are the United States, China and Brazil.

Exports of corn and corn-based products add billions to the United States economy yearly. Florida is a top producer of delectable, fresh-market sweet corn, grown particularly in the Everglades area.

Indeed, corn is a versatile crop. Corn oil is used in cosmetics, medicines and soaps. Corn steep liquor is the ideal medium in which to grow penicillin. Corn is the main feedstock for fuel ethanol in this country.

Another lucrative variety is popcorn. There is evidence that popcorn was eaten around 6,700 years ago in Peru. Evidently, past civilizations utilized popcorn for adornment as well as nourishment. Italian explorer Christopher Columbus observed West Indian people flaunting ceremonial headdresses embellished with popcorn. Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes viewed Aztec ritual attire decorated with popcorn.

In this country, the demand for popcorn endured. The colonists enjoyed it as a snack and as a popped breakfast cereal. By the late 1800s, popcorn carts followed the crowds. By 1938, the first popcorn machines appeared in movie theater lobbies. Later, with the advent of television, popcorn snacking escalated in the home. In 1983, the dominant Orville Redenbacher brand introduced its microwave popcorn and commanded that market as well.

Corn certainly has positive impacts on society, but there are also claims of negative impacts. Allegedly, corn is excessively grown to fuel vehicles and feed animals instead of nourishing people. Equally disturbing is the abundance of corn crops stimulated with nitrogen fertilizer that presumably threatens the environment with increased air pollution and toxic ground runoff.

Furthermore, some edible corn products are deemed harmful. High-fructose corn syrup exacerbates health problems when added to processed foods. In recent years, controversial chemicals and additives have been exposed in microwave popcorn. With public awareness, safety has improved.

Ultimately, health hazards are addressed. Of course, disputes are not anticipated over eating fresh corn on the cob or corn popped atop the open fire under the stars.