I was at work this morning, putting signs up in the condiment aisle when I came across a jar of jam that proudly advertised its lack of high fructose corn syrup. "All natural ingredients!" it added, to assure prospective consumers that nothing bad is inside.
Because regular corn syrup, as I'm sure you're well aware, is considered a fully natural ingredient.
If you haven’t caught the clue train in recent years, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been taken out of many products in favor of regular corn syrup because the "high fructose" part has sufficiently scared plenty of people off. Except, you know. Not.
A little background: If you are unfortunate enough to have followed my blogs for long, you know that I am
- very particular about the Supernatural universe and
- corn intolerant.
I have a blog dedicated to my anti-corn (and anti-garlic) sentiments, so I won’t go into too much depth on the personal level here. Suffice it to say that I am unable to eat corn or the majority of corn products ("corntaminated" products as the corn-free community calls them). This food allergy began affecting me within the last several years and I am second-generation allergic to corn — I was raised by someone with the same condition.
Bottom line: I know a lot about corn.
So, I want to talk about the impact of the Leviathan plan to fatten everyone up, the people-farming plot of Season Seven.
The first, you'll recall, was initiated in a small test area through use of the Biggerson's Turducken sandwich. First off, Turducken wasn't created by Supernatural, it existed before. I just had to get that off my chest. Turducken is something from real life. The truth is stranger than fiction and all that.
Secondly, the gray ooze that squished out of Dean's sandwich upon inspection seemed to have emanated from the meat, not the bread.
Now, lots of sandwich bread in the United States is made with HFCS. I must especially point out that, in many sandwich breads, like with the jam jar I inspected this morning, HFCS has simply been replaced with regular corn syrup. Most breads, even without traditional corn syrup or HFCS will still have corn products in them. Most corn products state what they are explicitly, i.e.: corn starch, corn solids, corn meal, corn flour, corn proteins, corn oil, corn extract, corn alcohol, corn gluten, corn syrup solids, corn sweetener, & etc., as well as anything called "maize" and hominy, which is a large-grain corn. (The opposite is true in baby corn, which are literally ears of corn harvested before they become whole ears.)
However, in the United States, unless noted otherwise, all of the following should also be assumed to be corn products:
dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin (exception: potato maltodextrin), citric acid (in the U.S. usually made from corn, not sugar), vanilla and vanillin (in the US usually made from corn, not sugar, excepting "organic" and other specific vanillas like Madagascan), synthetic lactic acid, modified food starch, food starch, whiskey, moonshine, domestic beers, polenta, confectioners sugar/powdered sugar, monsodium glutamate (MSG), caramel coloring, xanthan gum, and xylitol. Many paper and plastic products are also made from corn.
(For reference, outside the North American continent, corn syrup is sometimes called "golden syrup" and HFCS is called "fructose-glucose syrup," but citric acid, vanilla, and caramel coloring are less likely to be derived from corn.)
There are people in the world who are fully allergic to corn, in the way that closes up their lungs and actually kills them. They're affected by even more corn-based products than I am, no matter how heavily processed, and can't handle cross-contamination from manufacturing/cooking equipment either. Here is the whole, terrifying list.
What this means is that, while I would have expected the corn poison in the Turducken Slammer to have come from the bread, it seemed to have seeped out of the actual meat of the sandwich. There's lots of reasons this could have been.
Perhaps, at that stage of development, the Leviathan were attempting to poison the meat-eating population by infecting poultry. They could have decided to take an acceptable loss in the vegetarian/vegan population because they are believed (erroneously) to be the healthiest and skinniest of all humans. Being veg doesn't make you instantly healthy, nor does it always make you lose weight and get fit.
They might have decided after the events in New Jersey that they had to scrap the project and start again from a vegetable base instead of a meat base.
Then again, look at all those chemical names above. If you've never read your spices and food additives, I suggest you pull down some bottles and jars and cans and packets from your cabinets or out of your fridge or pantry. Check out how many of those compounds are in your various food items. Or look up the ingredients page on a fast food website and see how many additives and preservatives (citric acid, dextrin, dextrose, maltodextrin, and xanthan gum among the most popular) are in things you eat whenever you just need to grab a bite. (FYI: xanthan gum isn’t just a handy food product, it’s used in oil well drilling! Fun for the whole family!)
Any of those things could have been used to season and fry the meats in the Turducken Slammer. The birds could have been fried in corn oil. The seasoning in the meat could be sweetened with HFCS instead of straight sugar. We don't know.
We only know that the first Leviathan poisoning event was a failure. We don’t know the exact source of it unless we know specifically what was in the Turducken Slammer.
The second major corntamination event is of greatest interest to me.
When Sam and Dean first come across a massive group of food-stoned humans, they’re in Hoople, North Dakota retrieving Emily, the vampire snack.
The location of this corntamination event may or may not be random. If it is not random, that means the food in that area was stocked on shelves and released to the public based on Dick’s need to know if corntamination would kill a known settlement of vampires.
If it was random, that has implications for the entire rest of the country.
Consider the functions of the chemicals listed above. They are sweeteners and preservatives. The expiry dates of products with corn-based preservatives can be lengthy. Products like that are stored in case of emergency and keep, under good conditions, long past the best-before date.
Also consider that a lot of people ignore the expiry dates of things like aspirin and other common medications. Check out the inactive ingredients list on a bottle of Bayer aspirin. You will see corn starch listed there. NyQuil has both HFCS and citric acid. Toothpaste is often made with xanthan gum. The list goes on. That’s not even to mention corn products that are made specifically to be stored for years, like whiskey, which may not even be circulated until decades after its corn product base was harvested.
The major factors in the boundaries of the corntamination, then, are product type and location.
If the location of the corntamination was as random as it seemed — some no-nothing town in North Dakota — then it's highly likely that corntaminated products reached further than this town. Vendors who help stock gas stations and other retailers don't always have specific order pallets/bins for specific locations. Something that may have been intended for Hoople may have gone a ways down the road. A 40-count box of Hershey's Chocolate bars could then sit on a random shelf somewhere else in North Dakota and not infect anyone else until some dude breaks his diet two weeks later and caves to the "chocolate" bar he stashed to melt in the glove compartment.
(Additional note: even lightly corn-allergic people have violent reactions to Hershey's products because they have replaced sugar with HFCS and call it sugar on the packaging. They used to clarify this on their website under Nutrition Facts 101 > What is high fructose corn syrup? One of the reasons I first learned I was starting to have corn reactions was on the tail end of a Reese's binge. The FDA and courts have concluded that corn growers, manufacturers, distributors, and product users are not allowed to call HFCS "sugar" or "corn sugar" but the Hershey's company seems to be an exception to that and have recently buried the fact even further. So when you watch those fun commercials about people having a bonfire and making s'mores? They’re piling bars of HFCS on top of solidified globs of corn syrup — marshmallows — and between graham crackers which may or may not have other corn additives. Enjoy!)
This raises another issue. Which companies was SucroCorp distributing to? If they were distributing to a company like Hershey's, it's unlikely that Hershey's would make a batch of chocolate bars and agree to send them, specifically, to a small town in North Dakota.
More likely is the mass distribution of corn to all the companies where Dick had already had Leviathan planted at the higher levels. I think it's safest to assume that Hoople wasn't another test, but that, when Sam and Dean came across those who had been 'zombified,' they had simply stumbled into the middle of the operation.
The other factor in the corntaimination boundaries, product type, is just as tricky. Product type would depend entirely upon whether or not Dick Roman was relying upon batches of HFCS specifically, or the actual corn plants grown by SucroCorp farms.
If the corntamination started with the corn itself, there's no limit to the amount of products affected by the Leviathan poison. Basically, you wouldn't remain unaffected unless you eat diligently corn-free. Using real-life SucroCorp, Monsanto, as an example of how this would actually work, I refer you to the fact that several countries demanded the burning and destruction of entire years worth of corn crops because they were Mansanto-seeded, genetically-modified crops. Some of the growers were given the corn to plant on accident, assuming they had clean, non-GMO corn. Some of them had no idea that wind had simply blown seeds and pollen into their lands, infecting the entire crop, sullying the fields, and allowing more contaminates to be carried in runoff and water supplies.
Corn is a grass, so it grows fast and easily, but has not evolved into what it is today without help. If it had not been for humans, corn would still be a grass with a three-kernel seed pod at the top of each stalk. Humans modified it throughout the years by planting the kernels of mutant plants (those with more than three kernels) until they had a bunch of plants with better seeds and pollen for growth, more kernels per ear, more ears per stalk, meatier seeds, and sweeter tastes. (source) Corn as we know it would actually die out without being tended to and so it is constantly monitored, technology is dedicated to it, and the government has still not reduced subsidies based on it, so it's a major profit for anyone involved.
I would argue that it's more likely that the Leviathan poison's source was actually built within the corn instead of just dumped into a few brewing vats of high fructose corn syrup. It would be more evil to do it this way, though, considering the timeline of S07, January 2012 to May 2012 may not have been a long enough time span or sufficient growing season to provide a crop of modified corn. It might be more likely that that corn products were modified after being grown, harvested, and processed, and that the modified corn sweeteners and preservatives were dumped into the food supply and added to the coffee creamers as corn additives with additives.
But, again, having poisoned the crop's DNA has more wide-spread and terrifying implications. Let's assume that the ultimate endgame was to have the corn itself modified from seed. If the Leviathan could use ALL corn products to poison us, not just HFCS, it would make more sense for them to attempt this course of action. And it would make them proper-ass villains.
There is more evidence against this in canon than just the timeline.
You know how I said up there that citric acid is a corn product? In the United States, it really is. They used to make it with honest citrus, then with sugar, and now it's manufactured on the cheap with corn.
All the produce you consume from the supermarket, from regular food retailers, is showered in citric acid before it hits your shelves. It can be after, as well, to help preserve it longer.
I doubt that Sam diligently washed the other produce, the "rabbit food" that he and Dean bought instead of readily-corntaminated processed foods, in a way that would have cleaned all the contaminates off of them.
It is possible! This can be done with a drop of bleach in a large amount of water or with 3 parts water to 1 part white vinegar. The biggest challenge there is waiting for your produce to get clean, the fact that bleach is pretty unsafe no matter how small an amount you consume, and, oh yeah, also the fact that white vinegar CAN COME FROM CORN!
(Pro-tip: The average American is like 99% corn, I hope I'm making this perfectly clear to you.)
I think, then, that, barring the possibility that the Winchesters were just slightly corn-high throughout the rest of 07.22 and 07.23, that it's most possible that A) the corntamination did not include all types of corn, or B) while new products were being speedily introduced to the American public, old, "safe" corn products were also still on the shelves and in use in things like citric acid produce washes.
I like to think that, at the point the corntamination showed up in Hoople, it had already spread to other places and was set to soon spread throughout the country. I also think that, given the expiry dates of corn-preservative items, some of these things would still be on shelves and in homes.
Now the point of this whole thing is that it has interesting implications for subsequent seasons, which I'm sure won't be explored. But it could sure as shit be explored in fanfiction!
After Dean and Cas got sucked into Purgatory, Sam was hanging out in this corntaminated world for another year, all alone.
For how long did he navigate the everyday world in fear of being poisoned?
Did he ever accidentally poison himself? (I do it all the time, unfortunately.)
How long did he remain corn-free?
Did the demons or Sam or anyone else take it upon themselves to recall and destroy corntaminated products?
We know that the creamer that was supposed to kill the skinny people didn't get out. Maybe the spread of the poison wasn't as bad as all that. But what if there's some unused stock of it lying around that some fools decided to sell off after SucroCorp and RRE went belly-up?
What if a Leviathan or two escaped detection and they're carrying on poisoning a small population which they regularly feed upon?
What if demons or other monsters took this technology and applied it to the other major crops and additives in the American diet? (Wheat, salt/sodium, garlic; what if it was added to the water supply?)
So my theory is that small populations wake up on occasion, shaking off the poison's stupor and feeling like they ought to go on diets. I've also always wondered (since the episodes aired a while after I started being affected by the allergy) what would have happened to the corn-allergic in Dick Roman's empire. Would we have headed up a resistance? Or would we have been hunted down I Am Legend-style for going after Leviathan? Personally, I also like to think that Sam has stayed pretty well corn-free. But I always think Sam is down for my causes, you know?
Honestly, though, in those days he was mourning and wandering, contemplating not hunting anymore, I wonder if he rolled up upon pockets of the corn-stoned. I wonder if he yelled at them and ushered them outside and rounded them up carefully in the cart corals in the parking lots and burned down their supermarkets while they watched, oblivious.
The point is, Dick Roman's nefarious plot was SUPER NEFARIOUS, like nefarious as all get-out. I don't think most Supernatural watchers really respect how fucking nefarious it was. To the point that I wicked respect how much of an actual terrorist plot it was and how completely, diabolically effective it would have been.
There are master plans that people think they'd be unaffected by. There are policies put in place every day that people are completely unconcerned about because they're not affected by them. That's how so many strict anti-abortion measures and such are passed overnight, right before your Representatives all dip out to go on vacation for three months.
You think you wouldn't be impacted by this, but I'm here to tell you from experience, from reading miles and miles of food labeling and from hurting my own insides over and over, that there are reasons this plot is terrifying. There are reasons why it would work.
Maybe this is why everything was so hazy in Sam’s [S08] flashbacks? It was the corn high!
Which I really, really love. It's a great explanation for why those Nicholas Sparks nightmares were so foggy.
This was a follow-up:
With the Turducken Slammer, can't remember if you said this exactly, but is it possible that the meat oozed because either 1. the poultry that made up the sandwich were probably fed corn, or 2. the meat itself may have had corn additives? (Page 3 here under “corn syrup”.) The possibilities are endless and terrifying, unfortunately.
Both of these are possibilities, yes. There are corn-allergic people who cannot eat meat from animals who were fed corn. I'm not one of those people, however, though I'm sure my life (as would anyone's) would be like 5% healthier if I ate grass-fed beef and had chicken and eggs from poultry that wasn't fed corn. Little tiny traces of corn additives can build up in my system and make me (eventually) as sick as if I had some straight-up corn (example: I can have one half of one Motrin in a day with no problem, but if I have 2 whole pills of Motrin over 2 days, I will be fully corned just from the minute amount of corn starch that holds the pills together).
My doctors, who, admittedly, don't really believe that corn allergies exist (thanks for nothing) have said it's not possible to have reactions from the meat of corn-fed animals, that it's too far removed. I don't know if I buy that. So I think possibility one can absolutely be true.
Possibility two I can actually confirm. Deli meats at the grocery store (especially the ones you get in little plastic packages) tend to have corn preservatives like dextrose and modified corn starch. Even fresh-sliced meats you'd ask for from behind the deli counter likely have, at the very least, dextrose as a preservative. It's very common. I think it can safely be assumed that dextrose was used in the sandwich meats in Biggerson's Turducken sandwich. But, again, corn might not have been the focus of the experiments yet, at that point. The Leviathan had just started human testing and might not have decided on corn as the medium of poison transfer yet.