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?
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