Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Food Inc - some thoughts after viewing.

Depressing. The movie left me feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Angry. Sad. Wanting to DO SOMETHING!

Talking with friends about the movie I found they had similar reactions. But, a week later it had settled into a dull itch, an empty ache in the heart. Guilt at inaction, frustration at not knowing quite what to do.

For me the movie told a story I already knew. It was well presented. It tugged at my emotions, put images to ideas I already had explored, made me feel, made me want to act.

What it didn’t do was give direction.

Oh, there were suggestions…

Buy local
Shop at your Farmer’s Market
Eat Organic
Eat less Meat, less processed food, be more conscious of what you buy.
Vote with your dollars
Support stricter regulations
Support traceability
Have the government shut down big food like they did the tobacco industry

It all sounds great… EXCEPT…

Where I live, at the edge of a small town, surrounded by corn and soy bean farm and unemployed factory workers, there isn’t a farmers market until May. There are very few choices for locally produced food. This time of year (from October through the beginning of May) there are really none. You can get “organic” food at Wal-Mart if you can afford it. You can vote with your dollars, but there aren’t any real “candidates for change” out there in the food world. The vote in my area would be more about supporting locally owned, small businesses rather than the big box corporations. (The food isn’t local in either store.) The government can’t shut down Big Food the way it did with Big Tobacco. People can live (however unhappily) without tobacco, but not without food, and the alternative to Big Food doesn’t exist in most of this country anymore. And regulations… WE ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH. They are not protecting us, but MORE won’t fix that. What regulations are very effectively doing is exterminating the alternative. Just try becoming a small food producer and see how fast the “safety” regulations come slamming down on you.

Grow a garden was one of the suggestions. I love it, except at my house right now the ground is frozen solid, the high temp has been around 20° F, and it’s all buried under an ever increasing pile of snow. Kind of tough for gardening. Even if the season was right, it still takes skills which have been lost by a great portion of the population, space, which many people don’t have, equipment and seeds which cost money, and time, also a scarce resource for most people. AND, it takes YEARS to build a productive garden system. It is a good start at an answer, but home gardens alone won’t solve the problem.

The movie held out a couple of folks as examples of an alternative, Joel Salatin and the organic yogurt guy (I don’t remember his name.) They did provide a glimpse at a possible alternative, and they did represent some positive changes that could be made. BUT, they weren’t that different. They weren’t that many steps from Big Food. Joel Salatin captured it best for me. He said “ I have no desire to scale up and get bigger… but if more people come to our corner and want stuff, then heaven help me figure out how to meet the need without compromising the integrity.” That’s exactly what the organic yogurt guy did (now he is a supplier for Wal-Mart.) That’s what most of the organic food you find has done. That’s the same model that created Kraft Foods, Tyson, Monsanto. Meet the need. I really like Joel and what he does. He is a great inspiration to small farmers who want to try different methods. BUT, underlying what he does is the same mechanism that created all the mega-corps we have today. Swapping Monsanto for Mega Joel doesn’t really solve the problem.

Food Inc. also brushed by some other issues that are closely tied to the food problem, operate on the same model, and are crushing us as people and destroying the world in the process. ENERGY. WATER. HEALTH. All linked inextricably with food. All being controlled by bigger and bigger companies. All guilty of the same abuses, safety problems, environmental damaging methods, all dangerously vulnerable to collapse, and all critical for our survival. These things are so interlinked that you can’t solve them in isolation.

So, what do we DO?


Tina said...

What to do?
Go watch The Future of Food (linky to linkys) and feel even more angry, sad, hopeless.
I simply grow enough food in the growing season to can, freeze, etc. enough to get us through the frozen times of no growing.
Besides sharing the bounty with those without enough room so they can also preserve, really, what else to do?

Teresa said...

Okay- this won't solve the issue- but it is one small step in the right direction:
In my own journey, most of the battle has been learning what to do, how to make things on my own (sauerkraut, cranberry juice, canning, etc). These were skills that were once passed down from generation to generation, woman to woman, farmer to farmer, man to man, etc. We have lost that aspect of community and family living. I spend a lot of time learning things from scratch and having a huge learning curve that would not have existed if it had been passed on to me. This being said, why not begin to get really good at things and start to to demonstrate to others what we have learned- via farmer's market demonstrations, you tube movies, 4-H meetings, set up a demonstration at a local club meeting or business. I recently attended one on fermented foods. It wasn't earth shattering news- but it was a great jump start and gave me confidence that I could do it. There were 30 other people there- perhaps they were inspired as well. So- look at the difference it made. The same could be true for us- let's pick an area, get good and share!!! It will take time- we didn't get into this mess overnight and we're not going to get out of it overnight! Don't get discouraged- as this will only dampen our efforts- just what big business relies on!

info said...

Great post!
I think when I get frustrated about the big picture, I tend to focus more on my small piece of the picture.
That's why I started blogging---because I knew that I had enough friends/relatives/Facebook contacts that still hadn't been exposed to simple ways to improve life on our planet. Even though I know the information has been out for years, I know there are still people out there---people I care about--- who haven't heard the basics of conserving energy or who don't know the huge benefits of a square foot garden.
Twenty years ago (roughly) there was a group that met in our area that called themselves the Natural Living Group. It died out. Perhaps, as Teresa suggests, this is a time when a group of that nature is needed.

Kevin Kossowan said...

Self sufficiency has to be valued again before much will change. As does reducing excesses.

I completely agree that 'meeting the need' is the problem in the first place, and is circuitous - organic or not. Reduce the need seems to be more sensible, no?

I have no hopes that this will change much any time soon, but will be happy to opt out of the mass-approach of doing things, and lead by example if need be. Happily, there are lots of others around doing it too!

Callie said...

I try to buy local stuff to support our local farmers. If they don't have buyers they will lose their farms.

Whirliegig said...

Thank you for an honest view. It can be difficult for those of us who don't have immediate access to local or organic foods to create an environmentally friendly and wholesome lifestyle.
Yes, the movies and books are depressing and disgusting. But we can only make small steps as individuals. I think a major flaw in our American lifestyle, thanks to Big Business, is that we expect immediate fixes and gratification. Isn't that why fast food is so successful in the first place? Over time we will each see an improvement, but we have to learn to be patient.
One step at a time - do what you can. That's all you can do. Plan for next year and educate others. Look for the truth and never stop learning. Get others excited about eating better and living better.
Until the farmer's market appears here in the summer, I'll be eating what I've frozen and canned, buying local when I can, and planning for a bigger and better harvest next year. I'll be educating others, including my own daughter, on those lost skills of self-reliance. Hopefully a year from now I'll be relying even less on Big Business (even the organic ones) and more on the skills I've learned and my neighbors.

Ryan said...

think about a greenhouse or cold frame for next year. Also watch other movies. Walmart, King Corn, Who killed the electric car are three worth looking into.

Robin said...

Most of us are preaching to the choir here, you know. But Alan, one thing you do is very important (among many) and that is using your farmers market time to speak to others about food, etc. Dick also tries to do that with his bees and honey. Small steps may not seem progress, but for most of us that is how we get to where we want to go.

Robbyn said...

We tell the truth, that's what we do. We stop allowing the sanitization of language and transparent accountability, and demand that large corporations be held to the same standards of accessibility and accountability as the small guys...remove the protections that give them bully room. We keep making noise...the squeaky wheel principle. The squeaky wheel principle works so well even if there's mis-information that making a lot of noise with the CORRECT information should be enlightening and empowering. I can't emphasize this enough. This is where a single person DOES make a difference...talking soberly as informed and conscientious consumers to our neighbors and families and making changes right at's THE most powerful element of a democratic republic (while we still have any semblance of one left).

Honing in on a few issues where other special interests can also latch on is also a good idea. When is Monsanto going to overstep its bounds to the degree that all its network of supporters can really take a hit? When some other competitors, in whatever market, demand that it does or else bring it back to the media and investigative limelight. I wonder why the civil rights orgs never touch these issues with small this not the classic rich vs poor strong vs weak conglomerate vs individual cause some muckrakers would give their eyeteeth to spill ink over? Surely not all our media is bought out yet. I'm ready to see some turf wars from other big players who themselves can't get away with all the antics Monsanto, Seminis, Cargill, Tyson, etc do.

but I rant... :)


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