I can’t believe it but this is my 100th post! And it only seems fitting that it be about something important. I had been planning on seeing the new documentary Food Inc. for quite some time now and by coincidence I finally made it out to the Film Forum just in time for this 100th post. I had heard a decent amount about the film but I went in with a fairly open mind. I consider my food decisions, for the most part, to be pretty thoughtful but clearly I haven’t put in the time and effort to know and understand the whole story…
This documentary, directed by Robert Kenner, aims to illuminate the multitude of issues within the large-scale agricultural food production industry of the United States. It tackles the issues of meat production and the related increase in bacterial infections along with the perception of “variety” that has been created in our supermarkets. The film also discusses the increasingly problematic reliance on corn and soy products that have economic, environmental, and maybe most un-nerving, political ramifications. But most importantly, despite all the doom and gloom, the film emphasises the power we all have as consumers. We vote with our daily purchases and if we want changes it is up to us to force the big players hands.
Rather than giving a detailed description of the film leaving you with no real reason to see it for yourself I’m simply going to mention a few of the most impactful moments (at least for me). This idea of making better choices, being informed, and changing the system is shown best by two rather different examples.
The first, the ultimate example of commitment and fortitude, represented by Joel Salatin, the head farmer at Polyface Organic Farms in Virginia. The story of Polyface itself is uplifting and I encourage you to check them out at their website. But even more uplifting were the one liners and the insight that Joel continually added to the film. His motto is pretty simple; farming the correct way, ensuring the most delicious and healthful product while working to re-new the land simultaneously; quality, not quantity. What if our mission was to lower hospital visits the following year, instead of simply producing the largest quantity and the lowest cost, Joel wonders. I think we could all wonder what if?
The second example comes from a source you might have never guessed. Amongst the discussions of gross consumerism in the United States, Walmart continues to be a polarizing force. But it was the response to customer demands that is highlighted in this film, shining the largest retailer in a somewhat new light. The film, and Stonyfield Farms CEO Gary Hirshberg are quick to point out that Walmart’s motives may not be so morally routed as they are economic but nonetheless, a few recent decisions point to the power of the consumer. The introduction of a multitude of organic products (including Stonyfields popular yogurt varieties) as well as the ban of all milk produced by hormone fed cows, were decisions brought on by the customers. If we can change Walmart, shouldn’t we be able to make a larger impact across the board?
There is no question that a good portion of this film was devoted towards the seemingly rapid downturn of the meat production within our country. For those of you who lean towards not seeing this film because you’re afraid the images will be too gruesome and you won’t want to ever eat again, I encourage you to overcome your fear. Although there are a few moments of squeamishness it’s amazing how naive we have become. We have become so disconnected from our food source. Whether it’s the lack of labeling, the lack of information, or the lack of interest, we have lost our control over what we are eating. The film is quick to blame the downturn on the power of the fast food industry and I’m not so certain this isn’t true. But ultimately, we have to take ownership of this problem. After seeing images of livestock and chickens hoarded in compartments like the L train during rush hour being fed corn, a food source that these animals have not evolved to metabolize, just so we can have the biggest and cheapest options on the market I became rightfully ill. And the problems created by these processes (new forms of E.coli, lack of nutrition, etc.) are being analyzed in the wrong way. As one of the other organic farmers points out, why would we drag our food through chemicals to destroy bacteria we can simply avoid creating in the first place!? It’s a mess of a situation and it is only exacerbated by the economic downturn and the simple fact that this mass produced food costs less…
Its an undeniable wrench in the spokes of solving these critical problems. As long as you can get a hamburger for $1 at McDonalds, how will organic, local meat and produce ever be full out solutions, especially for those who are not as lucky as many of us? As I always mention in my frozen food battles, perception of cost can be deceiving. And the only way to truly understand this side of the problem is do the research and be knowledgable of the options out there. As I was discussing this part of the film/problem with a few others this weekend we started throwing out the question of how little we could live off in one week. And a challenge was born. Starting next Sunday night, myself, Sarah, and Nancy will be given $15 for the entire work week. All food related purchases will count towards that $15 (although we did decide we could use a few of the staples we have in our pantry: olive oil, salt, pepper, etc.). But the otherside of the challenge is to see how healthy we can eat. Can we make the decisions Food Inc. encourages us to make without sacrificing our daily eating habits? What do you think? Any suggestions for me or the others? I will be updating the blog with our progress including the meals we end up making and the decisions we were forced to make at the grocery store. The light at the end of the tunnel, a dinner Friday night celebrating our success (or not so terrible failure) and to show our appreciation that we are lucky enough to consider this a challenge and not a necessity.
So there it is, my 100 post! Here’s to many more! Now go see Food Inc. and bring a friend. I promise you you’ll be happy you did.