Last week I remarked on a pretty good new book about corn and the Midwest from the U of I Press. (See “Where corn is god.”)
I didn’t know it then, but when I became a magazine journalist my Springfield address doomed me to writing about corn. My first cover story for a national magazine was a profile of corn farmer in Sangamon County, in 1978. Another assignment began with a phone call from New York City from an editor who demanded (assuming I would know) ”What the hell is a pork belly?” He explained he’d been reading about pork belly prices in the commodity reports every morning in the papers for 40 years, and wouldn’t know one if it sat down next him on the subway. The result was another cover story, this one about the hog industry; the piece found such favor with the editors at Readers Digest that they paid me as much to re-run part of it as I was originally paid to write all of it. Such are the loony economics of the free-lance life.
So identified did I become with topics agronomic that a different editor, on meeting me face-to-face after some years of close collaboration by telephone, confessed that she was disappointed that I wasn’t smoking a corncob pipe. I told her I was disappointed that she wasn’t smoking a cigar. We called it even.