Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thoughts on Food, Inc.

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that's 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, insecticide-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) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield Farms' Gary Hirschberg and Polyface Farms' Joe 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. Food, Inc. opened
in the US and Canada on June 12, 2009. US filmgoers can click here to find a nearby theater and purchase tickets.

(Photo & text above are used with permission, courtesy of Food, Inc.)

Last weekend I saw Food, Inc. With this post I'm adding my own recommendation to the rave reviews it's receiving in the press. The film moves in a structured way through a variety of foods and the policies that control our food production. Like any good documentary, it relies on the facts to make its points and keeps hyperbole to a minimum.

Even though I already knew quite a bit about how animals in the food system are mistreated, I wasn't aware of the policies to which farmers must adhere in order to maintain their agribusiness contracts. Nor was I aware of just how few mega-businesses really control our food supply. Or that Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive and Wal-Mart is the biggest distributor of Stonyfield Organic Yogurt. This movie contains lots of provocative facts to ponder, that's for sure!

Food, Inc. closes with the reminder that we "vote" on how our food is produced with every dollar we spend. It stresses the fact that our individual choices are what will make a difference. The movie does not, however, talk about organizing and collective action. That is perhaps its only failing. One of the biggest points made by Food, Inc. is that control over food is very political. What it doesn't say is that to combat a powerful political force, we need to use collective methods like lobbying, leafleting, boycotting, even marching in the streets. These sorts of tactics demonstrate that we as consumers and taxpayers are united in our efforts.

The Food, Inc. website melds into a more activist site called Takepart.com that offers all sorts of useful lifestyle change suggestions, educational aids, and links to related sites like Center for Food Safety. Please take time to browse and acquaint yourself with all these sites. They help us find ways to be more politically active in matters related to our food supply.

I would also encourage readers to get involved with Farm Sanctuary. (As recounted in my 9/16/07 post, my own Visit to Farm Sanctuary turned me into a more committed vegetarian.) In addition to sheltering farm animals, Farm Sanctuary does a fair amount of political organizing to teach people how to make a collective impact for change. A similar organization not mentioned on Takepart.com is Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT). These and other organizations that stress political action as well as individual choice will help us make a difference.

Before action, though, comes education on the issues. Food, Inc. does an EXCELLENT job relaying the facts and demonstrating the need for change on every level of the food industry. If you're in the US or Canada, go see it. If you're outside North America, watch for it. And feel free to share your thoughts in a comment here.

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
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