A thought-provoking challenge to swear off corn

Sam Chapman

Starting this semester, the Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) initiated a tradition which has thus far proven to be quite interesting. Every week, as decided by the group (we truly are a bunch of contemptible Reds), a challenge is put forth for all members to undertake, should they so desire. The first, held the week before last, was no stretch: go an entire week without drinking out of a disposable cup. I’m a staunch fan of the perpetually undersupplied Lyman dining hall, so I was forced to awkwardly drink juice from a mug once or twice, but beyond that I hardly gave it any thought.

The second challenge, which concluded this Friday, was far more ambitious: one week without high fructose corn syrup. Those of us wishing to really punish ourselves could attempt to avoid corn products altogether. For clarification, corn is one of the most industrialized crops in the United States today; it is a favored additive of food conglomerates ConAgra, Tyson, and Kraft, and the principal item in the grand larceny perpetuated by factory farms against independent farmers. Industrial farming puts pressure on the land, pollutes with fertilizers and emissions, and endorses unsustainable monoculture. No environmentalist worth his salt is OK with it.

Listening to the dietary restrictions reminded me of my experiences with a close high school friend who is a practicing Sunni Muslim. As the Qu’ran forbids consuming pork or pork products, he had to constantly parse any food he had not prepared himself, lamenting that pork seemed to be in everything: from gravy to gelatin to crusts.

I felt his pain a little this week. Time and again, I found myself bemused at the sheer number of things that contain corn and could really have done without it. The first thing I did after returning from the CCC meeting was leap on the Bon Appetit website to arm myself with knowledge before being faced with another meal. The company that feeds the average freshman for most of his life away from home gave detailed information about the sustainability and health benefits of their food; while I didn’t doubt any of it, I could find no mention of corn or corn syrup.

This left me with a dilemma: to trust BA, or not to trust? I saw no reason to suspect they were secretly larding corn products into everything, but there’s a perpetual nagging doubt in my mind, one that’s been responsible for a lot of wasted time on exams. This voice told me that BA would certainly not note on their website that they relied on any sort of corn products: especially given that they service schools like Whitman, where students would run them out on a board if they got wind of it.

In the end, though, I decided to accept the website as the truth, reasoning that overreliance on corn in a local kitchen would hurt more than it would help. There was another reason, as well: a very important aspect of the personal environmental crusade is that we not let it turn us into paranoiacs. Not only is it no way to live to fear that every bite you take is melting the ice caps, it distracts from the larger issue.

We college students have carbon footprints that are among the smallest in the First World. The vast majority of us live in a single room, walk or bike everywhere, and make conscientious decisions when consuming. We shouldn’t be concerned about actively hurting the environment; we should be concerned about not helping.

In the end, I counted myself lucky that my food service thinks about sustainability, swore off outside products such as sodas, and resolved to take some sort of action against factory farming and agricultural conglomerates. The purpose of the weekly challenge is not to hold participants to a rigid standard but to get them thinking about how aspects of their lives affect the larger game. This week’s challenge is to reduce electricity consumption: and while I’m not going to be able to live Friday to Friday without entering a room where the lights have been turned on, I plan to do some thinking about what keeps them burning.