VISIONS Online Extra: Fireworks and Tortillas

This artwork and poem is a supplement to the winter 2014 VISIONS magazine cover feature on ISU’s student/alumni writers and illustrators. The poem is by Megan White and the artwork by Lyndsay Nissen.

Megan White was born into a long line of an unusual combination of farmers and travelers, which has shaped her life and her writing. Her writing investigates issues of place as well as how writing and art can be used as tools for creating sustainable, diverse, vibrant communities. She received her MFA from Iowa State University and currently teaches at Montgomery College.

Lyndsay A. Nissen was raised in Ames, Iowa, and attended Gilbert High School. In 2008 she received a BFA from the University of California Santa Cruz. She is currently attending Iowa State University to receive her master’s degree in fine art. Her work primarily focuses on the environment in Iowa and the culture of consumption.


“From the toothpaste you use in the morning to the book you read at bedtime, corn plays a part in nearly every aspect of our lives”

I called my mom
to ask about our corn—
hundreds of acres in Missouri
my family manages from the suburbs of DC
corn that paid for my opportunities,
private high school and pearls I didn’t ask for,
lap tops and sailing trips that I did ask for,
I wanted to know about the corn
that I can no longer passively benefit from
“What fertilizers and pesticides do we use?”
“Where do we buy our seed?”
“Where do we sell it?”
“What does it become?”

Right now they’re applying fertilizer, not pesticide.
Yeah, but…
Your grandparents sample the soil
measuring the amount of fertilizer necessary
for each segment of the field
so it doesn’t run into the water system.
They only use what they need.
Most farmers don’t do that.
Your grandparents are progressive, scientific.
Don’t let people make you feel guilty.
Our family is helping the world.
You are an urban forester.
You know better than that.
You know chemicals always end up in the water,
the water I am drinking right now.
I’ll ask what fertilizers we use.

We don’t get our seeds from Monsanto.
We have to get our seeds from a company owned by Monsanto.
Don’t listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
I am here, in Iowa, that’s all anyone ever talks about.
I’ll find out the name of the seed companies we use.
It’s not Monsanto.

We sell the corn to the grain elevator.
Where do they sell it?
To a distributor.
Where do they sell it?
To another distributor or a manufacturer.
What do they make with it?
What is OUR corn producing? It’s not sweet corn!

It makes food for animals and humans.
It makes diabetes.
(She got mad.)
America is the bread basket of the world!
There is no other way to feed the world!
What are we feeding the world? Corn syrup?!
Why wouldn’t you let me eat all those sugary foods
and soda and white bread and fast food?
Why should we produce something
that you wouldn’t let me eat?!
Why are people starving Darfur?
Why are people starving in DC?
Why are people starving everywhere?!
Why are so many poor people overweight and diabetic?

Corn doesn’t cause diabetes
people choose to eat what’s bad for them.
How can our family bring something into the world
that we KNOW is bad for people?
Whether people eat it or not, why would we make it possible?
Corn isn’t just used for corn syrup.
What else do we make with it?
Feed for livestock.
Livestock shouldn’t eat corn,
it turns their muscles into corn,
meat is still corn syrup,
just mixed with hormones.
Fine. Look it up. I’ll look it up.
Corn makes
Corn syrup
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Poyol Sweeteners
Animal Feed
Corn Oil
Citric Acid
Paper coating
trash bags
hair styling products
cough drops
laundry sheets
disposable diapers
sanitary napkins
baby powders
biodegradable packaging
Fine. Fireworks. Let’s make fireworks.
Fireworks and Corn Tortillas?
Yes. ORGANIC Fireworks and Corn Tortillas.
I don’t think your grandparents will agree to that.
But we can talk with them about this when you get home
Let’s talk to them about it now.
This year’s crop has already gone in.
Next year’s crop is coming.

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