Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Food, Inc.

Have you seen it?  It's a documentary on food production, and it's viewable free online through April 29 at pbs.  If you have a Netflix subscription you can watch it online there too.

I've heard it talked about and a friend advertised it's PBS broadcast on Facebook last week, and then a cousin mentioned he caught it and was wondering if I'd seen it.  I hadn't, but I arranged to.

It is a good intro to factory-food and it touches on many sides of the Eating Dilemma.

What I like:

Aside from a few clips that we've all seen (the downer-cow being prodded with a forklift to "qualify" to become part of our food supply), there was nothing crazily-over-the-top about the treatment of the animals or their environment.  Some might call that a criticism, but I think the regular run-of-the-mill nastiness is enough to make the point without distracting.

Joel Salatin is in it, and his methods/writing were the first reasonable exposure I had to the differences in organic vs. conventional food production.  I love his attitude towards his farm, his business, his animals, the industry, people...  It doesn't hurt that he's a Christian, and, I think, homeschooled his (now grown) children.  He makes a great point that cheap isn't necessarily good.  "Who wants to buy the cheapest car?"  In fact, "cheap" often means "very expensive" when you factor in the environmental costs, the medical/healthcare costs of an abused body, societal costs, and more. Many (most?) of the big crops are SUBSIDIZED.  Because we're paying for those via our taxes, the price tag at the grocery store can be smaller.  That doesn't make his $3/dozen eggs necessarily expensive (except that we still have to pay the IRS, even if we buy his produce).

As I said above, it touches on many facets of industrial food production, including the marketing/labeling, labor/illegal immigration, genetic modification, animal treatment, environment, nutrition, law/politics, farmer-supplier relationships, and more.

What I didn't like:

The politics.  One guy (the founder of Stoneyfield Farm yogurt, I think) actually says (in a "too bad" sort of way), "We're not going to get rid of capitalism.  Certainly we're not going to get rid of it in the time that we need to arrest global warming and reverse the toxification of our air, our food, and our water.... And if we attempt to make the perfect the enemy of the good and to say, 'we're only gonna buy food from the most perfect system within a hundred miles of us' we're never gonna get there."  He adds that "business" is the source of all the pollution, all the things that are "destroying this world."

While I'm sure he regrets using the global warming excuse now, I couldn't believe that he was so "anti" capitalist, considering the comment right before that, was, "organic had been growing over 20% annually.  It's one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry."  Oh, and right after the anti-capitalism?  "Today, in 2008, we're not only the #3 yogurt brand in America, but we're among the most profitable."  Huh?  I thought he was against capitalism?  Or does he just blame it for all the environmental evils, and decided to play the game for the environment's sake.  So much for moral absolutes.

In one scene, on a nice, lush farm, a van pulls in and two super-smiling young men emerge, among others, and the lady of the farm asks, "help me figure out.. who are?  and ...where? are you from?" and they, still smiling too much, say, "We work for Wal-Mart."  She, "Oh.. okay..  Do you know that we don't go to Wal-Mart?  That we've never been?  Amazing, isn't it?"  They continue to smile, and the older man says, "and so we come to you."  She might've left it there, considering that it seems they are potential patrons of her farm products, but she says, "we just sort of started boycotting it years ago, and just kept riding in that boat..."

I don't like the "big = evil" assumption, although clearly some of the big ones (Monsanto, for one) could hardly be described otherwise.  I don't like the implication that desiring profit means that you have no morals whatsoever.  Of course businesses have to look at the bottom line.  What is with these types, do they think all our hard work should never amount to anything?  I don't see them begrudging Joel Salatin his $3/dozen.

They also follow one family in the grocery store, as they weigh pears and consider the price of broccoli, and are "forced" to consider the boxed, processed stuff as more affordable.  With some exceptions, you can eat very well, yet very frugally without succumbing to that idea.  Beans, rice, flour, butter, pasta, veggies and fruits in season...  Meat in small amounts, this is doable for most, if they take the time and learn to cook it.  A top of broccoli might not be much by way of a main dish, but cut up and added to a meal for flavor and nutrition, even in small amounts, is certainly a better choice than creamed corn.  Especially when you consider the price of the diabetes medication you'll need in a few years.

I am undecided yet on some issues.  The documentary portrays the stark difference between the "old" ways and the "new," contrasting the bushels per acre, the size of chickens and the speed of their growth, etc.  I'm not sure where they're going with this.  If my brother criticizes me for anything, it's that I'm always "against technology" in some fashion or another.  But seriously?  What should be done instead?  Should we go back to 10% of yield?  The benefits seem outweighed by the cost.  The cost being that a LOT of people won't be eating from that field.  And will they be eating at all?  Consider how many hours per day people once spent just to feed themselves and their families.  I'm willing to hear the debate about whether or not that is reasonable, but I'm not ready off the bat to advocate it.

Have you seen the film?  Did you learn anything you didn't know?  Did you like it?  Do you agree with my assessments?


MamaJ said...

OK, I was able to watch it online after trying about 6 times to get the video to come up! Made me wonder why it was so hard to But, I finally got to see it about 10pm Wednesday. I totally agree with your take on it, especially the Stoneyfield guy. He was such a walking contradiction, lol. I really liked that Joel Salatin guy, his perspective was so neat. I think it would be worth it for me to buy the film and pass it around to friends and family!

EllaJac said...

I couldn't get the pbs site to let me watch it, not that I tried very hard. I'd seen it on netflix, so I just went there to watch. :)
When I first started this blog, and was really trying to do more of the "farm" type of thing (half my kids ago...), Joel Salatin's books were my inspiration.

It would be great to have on hand, though I caution you... for some reason there is strong resistance to the idea that conventional food isn't just perfectly a-ok. I don't know if it comes across as snobby, or what, but dietary changes based on weight loss, medical issues, doctor's recommendations, those are fine. This, notsomuch. :) If you have receptive friends and family, though, go for it! Maybe have a "viewing" at your house and serve homemade-mayo dip on homemade crackers or something. :)