Continuing in the theme of “knowing your food” this week, I’ve been considering and pondering the movie “Food, Inc.” for several months. What follows is both praise and a deconstruction of the ideas presented in the movie. Part 1 of this post appears here. Part 2 appeared yesterday. This is the third and final installment of this series.
Back when Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president, farmers made up 58% of the population. If a family wanted to survive and not live in a city, that family farmed; the average farm consisted of 199 acres. In 1990 (the last statistic I could find), farmers comprised a mere 2.6% of our population. And yet we have more people in our country than ever before. How are fewer people feeding more without our awareness? Unless you intentionally live in an agrarian community (like we did), you probably don’t know any farmers. And yet… there is plentiful food on the store shelves – enough that they throw away the excess when it passes the “sell-by” date.
I’m not opposed to efficiency – I defended it when the filmmakers appeared to thrash the concept in relation to the McDonald brothers. But when the majority of people in our country don’t know a farmer and don’t know where their food comes from, it is a problem. It’s a situation which is ripe with ethical considerations, including the proverbial “fox watching the henhouse.”
The film goes in to detail discussing why the changes in agriculture haven’t been publicly debated in the last 20+ years – those who are in places of public trust in the government have been linked to industrial agriculture (specifically, Monsanto). When these links are considered, it’s not hard to see a conflict of interest with patent-protecting agricultural practices, GMO product insertion in our food supply, and GM products labeled as “safe” by the FDA, when the same FDA who has a former Monsanto employee in a Deputy Chief position. Certainly, the FDA isn’t the only agency in question here, but they have positioned themselves at the forefront of issues when it comes to our food supply.
The government which is ostensibly there to “protect us” is not protecting us from the very things which pose risk. And when people become discontent and begin going “off-grid” for things like naturally-raised foods, the government goes against people who simply want the choice to provide better for their families. The government is happy to tell us that milk from cloned animals is safe to drink, but not clean, raw milk from pastured cows and goats. They oppose labeling for GM products and/or cloned meat, saying that it’s safe for consumption, but they haven’t studied it to confirm its safety. This is the biggest problem: having people in high places of trust who have a conflict of interest with regard to industrial agriculture who then make decisions about our food supply.
Did you know that in many states, it’s actually illegal to criticize the industrial agriculture that takes place within the state’s borders? In Colorado, for example, it’s a felony to criticize the ground beef that is produced in Greely and other areas. A felony to say publicly that you’d rather chose a grass-fed alternative or that you distrust the CAFOs which exist. This floors me – and it’s a thinly veiled attempt to control us as citizens by controlling our speech and how we choose to feed our families – the most basic of rights.
In the movie, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farms reminds us how powerful we really are as consumers: we are voting each and every time we run something past the scanner in the grocery store. We vote for local or not, organic or not, GMO or not…. we have the power to affect change. Not only for our families, but for our way of life and how we do agriculture in our country. If we demand better, the farmers will deliver. They will find a way around the patented, GM-foods and provide us what we demand. But we have to ask for it.
Much of the question regarding our food chain comes from a place of prosperity. As a people, we’re no longer scratching and hunting for our food. When a people evolve from hunting and gathering to having someone else do the hunting and gathering for them, the bar is raised on our consciousness, as well. If we’re hungry and don’t know where dinner is, we don’t care if dinner is humanely treated or not. But we’re not in the place anymore, and now that we don’t have to think about the nitty-gritty of killing animals for food, we can consider how those animals are killed and become our dinner. I consider it a moral and ethical choice that I make; I believe I have a Biblical edict to be a wise steward and this is part of that.
I think the most important thing I pulled out of this movie wasn’t the bad stuff that the government is doing, nor was it how awful GMOs are. It wasn’t even how terrible the practices of Monsanto and the other agribusinesses are. It is how much power we have to affect change. Some people get scared when faced with change, and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always comfortable. Change doesn’t have to be going all organic or becoming a farmer. You can affect change slowly and in ways that make sense for your family. Start by eating meals together on a regular basis. If you want to ditch GM products, start the switch slowly. There is enough reason in the evidence against HFCS alone to make the switch, but those choices have to be made intentionally. Go back to basics and cook for yourself, instead of letting a company cook for you.
You CAN affect change. Change for the better for yourself, your family, and our society. Take baby steps and create a plan, but know that you can do this.