Saturday, July 11, 2009

Food, Inc.

I saw Food, Inc. last night. It didn't tell me much that I didn't already know - especially after reading Michael Pollan's excellent In Defense of Food (Pollan also appeared in the documentary a few times). And still, it disturbed and angered me - specifically the things I did not know. I won't write a lengthy post about it now, except to say that (Oops, looks like I did write a lengthy post about it after all!) After spending 90 minutes at the Charles avoiding all the Brüno traffic, I now have better insights into:

  • Just how many things have corn products in them (diapers!?!?);
  • Perdue and Tyson (and probably the other one or two megacompanies in "Big Poultry") do a pretty good job of mistreating not only its chickens - to make them much bigger in half the time - but also its chicken farmers - who have to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to upgrade their chicken houses, even though they make about $20K a year;
  • I now know why unionizing workers at Smithfield's Tar Heel, NC, plant are so pissed off;
  • I also now know about food safety advocate Barbara Kowalcyk and her efforts to pass Kevin's Law, named after her son who was killed by E. coli tainted beef that was recalled - a month after her son ate it, and two weeks after he passed;
  • And after finding out how thoroughly Monsanto - the same chemical company that holds a patent on a genetically modified soybean - harasses those independent soybean farmers who refuse to use their soybeans, and considering how pervasive soy products are in the American food supply, I don't know if I can ever drink soy milk again (not that I did very much to begin with);
  • If you want to grow corn or soy in this country, you pretty much have to roll over for the big corporations and do what they want;
  • The organic food folks are pretty torn on corporations like Wal-Mart starting to sell organic food, even though it is the very type of change they are seeking. The documentary features one Gary Hirshberg, maker of Stonyfield organic yogurt, who points out that most formerly independent organic companies are now owned by the Big Guys. Tom's (that you see often at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods)? It's now owned by Colgate.
Of course, the film points out some things that both Pollan's book and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation already discuss that I already had realized:
  • The fundamental changes in the food industry over the last 50 years in order to quickly make cheap, tasty, though not always sanitary food (again, Kevin's Law);
  • The pervasiveness of high fructose corn syrup and other many and varied corn products and soy products in our food;
  • Because we'd rather prosecute illegal immigrants instead of the corporations that hire them, a lot of food corporations are getting away with some very bad things;
  • Our nation's FDA and USDA are much more ineffective than they ever were, especially since food industry big wigs have served in the upper echelons of both organizations on and off for decades, under Democratic and Republican presidents;
  • Perhaps the most important thing in the movie for me: so many people are too impoverished to even be able to buy the more expensive produce - they only have enough money to buy the junk food, keeping them trapped in a cycle of obesity, diabetes, unhealthy food and - again - poverty.
Mind you, it's not a paean to vegan eating. The movie visits Polyface Farms, an independent farm in the Shenandoah Valley where chickens, cows and pigs are roaming around eating the grass and not being cooped up. One guy traveled for five hours just to buy some of this farm's poultry! You will see owner Joel Salatin slit a chicken's throat on this farm. Of course, if you're a vegan you will never consider this humane. Apart from the slit-throating bit, though, this is more humane for the animals, for the workers, and for the consumers.

It's also much more expensive. Which made me realize as I left the Waverly Farmers' Market today: if you are able to buy this kind of produce, you are paying more for quality and humane farm conditions, especially for the meat, which you shouldn't be eating that much of anyway. But spending more for it will probably force me to both buy less of it, and to waste less of it. And this will probably work out to be less expensive for me in the long run, because I'll be buying less (albeit pricier) food at a higher quality, which is therefore more conducive to my health. Will I still stop at Wendy's or the Fractured Prune? Of course, but not often. And Eric Schlosser comes right out at the start of the movie and admits: it's not going to be easy to avoid all the crap in our food in this modern day and age (unless you take up a life of hunting and gathering). This goes for everyone from the ravenous meat-eaters to the uber-zealous vegans.

So what do we do? The movie may be preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, it urges the viewer to do a few things:
  • Write our Congressmen and Congresswomen to get the gears moving to change the system (the producers use the regulations on Big Tobacco as an example);
  • Go to farmers' markets and independent farmers much more often - and ask them to accept food stamps, so it's not just open those who can afford to go;
  • Grow your own damn food! That justifies my new upside-down tomato grower hanging off my porch railing.
  • If you know people that hunt, fish or crab, get some of what they bring back with them.
I've written a lot here. But please don't take my word for it, y'all. See the movie for yourself (the trailer is below). And if it's not playing locally (which it probably isn't for some of you), wait for it to come out on Netflix. It's a pretty damn enlightening documentary.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, there's just no way I'm not going to stop at Fractured Prune every once in awhile.
The Charles is going to have a free showing of Food Inc tonight at 7:30. I'm planning on seeing it then.

MK said...

I really can't wait to check this movie out myself. I'll have to see if it is still playing anywhere in the city. I'm glad that it touches on Monsanto and some of the crazy things they are doing, including genetically altering seeds. It makes me sick to think of how hard they are working to make our food supply even more genetically altered than it already is. All under the guise of good intentions....