Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Betty Fusell's 'The Story of Corn'

By Mary Walling Blackburn

AUGUST 30, 1999: 

The Story of Corn by Betty Fusell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, paper, $18)

The author's claim that corn is sexual -- from "the full erotic thrust of corn-on-the-cob" to the corn plant's pubic-like silken tassels -- was initially confounding. Betty Fussell has construed corn as the great equalizer of humanity, the common denominator between Anglo and indigenous peoples. In a single page, Fussell is able to span the corncob's early use as toilet paper, medicine for hog cholera, folksy smoke pipe, torture instrument and handy cleaning supply tool for the prairie housewife. But corn as sexual?

John Marr, author of Murder Can Be Fun, supplied a racy corn story in an interview with Punk Planet that Fussell should have included in her book. Marr's story illustrates the relationship between sexuality and corn nicely. "A guy was at his fiancée's house. Everyone wanted to go to the mall but he begged off for some reason. They came home and found him dead in the yard, face down in a mud puddle, naked, with a corn cob up his ass."

Autoerotic asphyxiation aside, Fussell provides pages of corn fact fun, corn industry history, and the spiritual uses of corn in indigenous cultures. From explosives to lipstick, starch to Cool Ranch Doritos, corn-fed church communities to corn-focused Pueblo ceremonies, Fussell thoroughly demonstrates the ubiquity of corn in the modern world. A century of capitalist-fueled government tinkering in the growth and control of corn agriculture is explained, and the plight of the American farmer is revealed in what Fussell dubs a "Corn Sick Land." Fussell describes the corn cultures and cuisine of the Aztec, Inca, Plains and Pueblo peoples down to the present day ingestion of Peruvian corn beer and Mexican tortillas filled with the dried and toasted egg skins of water bugs.

Fussell thoroughly exhausts the subject of corn until the reader can no longer be accused of being what she calls an industrial eater: "The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer imagines the connections between eating and the land."


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