Sunday, November 8, 2009

Food Inc. and change

As a fan of Michael Pollan’s, I’ve wanted to see Food Inc since its release in theatres in June. This week, E and I finally got to see it as part of the Marshall Artist Series’ Fall Film Festival. I’m in the middle of reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was about to see.

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About the film (source):

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

This was a seriously powerful film, and I was shocked to realize how much surprised me. I had several moments where I was thisclose to crying, and I’m not the crying type. When I left the theatre, I was angry more than anything else. Food Inc. covers a lot of ground, so I’m going to talk about the matter which affected me the most.

  • In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006, the FDA conducted only 9,164. In 1998, the USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E. coli 0157h7 (an intensively dangerous deadly strain causing hemorrhagic colitis), so that if a plant repeatedly failed the tests, they could be shut down by the USDA. After being taken to court by the meat and poultry associations, the USDA no longer has the power. E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks have become more frequent in America,
    whether it be from spinach or jalapenos. In 2007, there were 73,000
    people sickened from the E. coli virus.

Our government is not protecting us. They are allowing corporations to rule in their own best interest, choosing bottom line and highest profit over humanity and ethics. If the meat you’re producing is making people sick or dead, you shouldn’t be allowed to produce it anymore. End of story. If you think that there are laws to protect you and your family against disease and unclean conditions, you are so very wrong. This doesn’t just affect carnivores – it affects everyone. E, as a vegetarian, is no safer than me because the waste and by-products from factory farming go into the ground, the water supply, and contaminate so much more than meat. We shouldn’t have to worry about peanut butter and vegetables making us sick, but we do, because the USDA, FDA and other government bodies are useless and too fearful of lawsuits to do anything about it.

  • SB63 Consumer Right to Know measure requiring all food derived from
    cloned animals to be labeled as such passed the California state
    legislature before being vetoed in 2007 by Governor Schwarzenegger,
    who said that he couldn’t sign a bill that pre-empted federal law.

Once again, WHERE IS OUT GOVERNMENT??!?!?! What kind of country is this that we don’t have the rights to see what’s in our food, the nutritional make-up of it or even to know whether it’s from a cloned animal or a genetically modified product. If we can’t count on being protected, we should at least be given the opportunity and rights to protect ourselves.

  • 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes; Among
    minorities, the rate will be 1 in 2.

We are literally making ourselves sick. From all the fat, salt and sugar we eat to the 200 lbs. of meat the average American consumer consumes in a year, we are helping ourselves into an early grave. Diabetes is no longer something that’s a genetic hurdle, but a certainty. When it’s cheaper to get a hamburger than an apple, there’s an issue. The cost of food isn’t just the price at the store or on the drive-through menu, but in the medical bills, the despair and the early loss of life 5, 10, 20 years from now. Just because the burger you eat today doesn’t hurt you, the effects of it will.

It really bothered me to not see Perdue, Tyson or Monsanto present their point of view in Food Inc, which stated that they declined to comment. In fact, a Tyson farmer who was willing to show the inside of his chicken houses changed his mind after some visits from company representatives, and a Perdue farmer who decided to show both the chicken houses and speak on camera lost her contracts. To be fair, Monsanto and an alliance of meat production associations did both publish responses to the film, which can be seen here and here. 1208 026

E’s stepfather is a dairy farmer, and I assumed every farm to be like his – happy workers, happy animals and green grass and rolling hills. I visited the farm to feed the newborn calves last Thanksgiving, and had a blast. The animals are happy, playful and respected, and get to see sunlight, roam in the pasture and eat grass if and when they choose to. Basic care, right?

Wrong.

Most of our meat comes from plants and factories, where the goal is to produce meat as uniformly and as cheaply as possible. Chickens are raised with hundreds packed so closely together they can’t move, without sunlight or fresh air and grow so quickly so fast they can no longer support their own body weight, are unable to stand and can die from being so huge. It takes a chicken 3 months to reach 5 pounds, and commercial broilers reach that weight in a mere 49 days. Cows spend their days knee-deep in manure, never knowing, feeling or touching grass (the very thing they should be eating!) or are literally lying on top of each other. These animals are being treated as a product instead of as beings with needs. They aren’t respected from the day they’re born until the day they die, and that’s a problem. We are led to believe that without factory farming, we will run out of food and land and that’s simply not true. Humans have been farming and cultivating for thousands of years and have yet to have such a problem. In the last 50 years, we’ve done more damage to the Earth and to ourselves than in the last 5000.

I believe that Food Inc. is an important film, and that it’s important for the public to see it, especially now that it’s out on DVD and Blu-Ray. I will warn that it has some very graphic scenes, and I was horrified at some of the scenes I saw. Several of the bloggers I read had some interesting points to make about the movie as well.

At the end of the day, I’m angry. Really freaking angry, actually – at myself for being so naive, the government for not protecting us, especially from life-threatening diseases that are preventable, and the giant meat conglomerates for abusing their farmers, workers and animals to add another dollar in their big, fat pockets. Food Inc. has taught me an important lesson, though – I have no right to be angry or indignant if I’m not willing to do anything about it. Thankfully, there’s a silver lining to all of this – we can change. In fact, according to Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farms, “The irony is that the average consumer does not feel very powerful. They think that they are the recipients of whatever industry has put there for them to consume. Trust me, it’s the exact opposite. Those businesses spend billions of dollars to tally our votes. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting.”

The Food Inc. website has some fantastic tips on how we can make a difference:

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The way I feel about food now has forever impacted me, and I’m making changes in my own life. I’ve been a vegetarian before, and E is a vegetarian, but it’s just not the right choice for me, but this is:

  1. Eating ethical meat – if my meat isn’t naturally-raised, pastured or grass-fed, I’m not eating it. I believe that animals have the right to be respected and treated humanely, whether I choose to eat them or not. I stopped eating veal after my day with the calves, and pork went out the window a couple of weeks ago. I will only be purchasing meat for myself or eating meat served in a restaurant or in someone’s home if it fits the criteria. A few retaurants, including Savannah's and Jewel City Seafood in town and Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston are safe, and there's a farm about an hour away where I can buy meat and poultry. Otherwise, my options are to have a meal consisting of ocean-friendly fish/seafood or one that is meatless. The only exception to this would be game that is caught by a loved one, such as venison or wild turkey.
  2. Continue buying organic milk, yogurt and produce, and buy other natural and organic products as budget and availability allow.
  3. I will make more of an effort to learn where my food is coming from and what it’s made of, and to respect the seasons, and not just what was flown in.
  4. I will support companies and products that I believe in, and let every dollar we spend vote in our best interest.

Have you seen Food Inc? What opinions or thoughts did you have about the film and/or your eating habits? How do you vote at breakfast, lunch and dinner?

3 comments:

geegs23 said...

I really enjoyed reading your post about Food, Inc. I saw it several months ago and was disturbed by what I saw.. definitely makes you think twice about the foods you eat.

I'm new here.. stumbled across your blog on Friday.. :)

http://Geegs23.wordpress.com

the Provident Woman said...

We are beekeepers so of course the one food thing that upsets me is honey in the store. Did you know that of course it's boiled but they can add things to the honey and not put it on the label anywhere. So that's what they do to make the honey go farther. We only sell raw unprocessed honey. I like to know exactly what I'm eating.

I also wanted to let you know I have a giveaway on my blog. If it's not the latest post click on the What am I? picture on one of the right sidebars.
theprovidentwoman.com

Carly said...

Geegs23 - thanks for your comment. if nothing else, food inc is a good example of why sometimes getting hit over the head isn't a bad thing!

the Provident Woman - thank you for the heads up; we buy our honey from a local beekeeper who makes and sells raw unprocessed honey. it definitely tastes better, and helps with allergies, as well.