Judging by the turnout for the recent opening of the brand-new food documentary, Food, Inc. (it topped the per-theater average of all the movies at the box office on its opening weekend), Americans care about food. We want to know how our food is produced, who or what is harmed in the process, and whether or not what we are feeding our children is actually healthy. Food, Inc. goes in-depth into exactly these topics, and allows the viewer to see what food production entails for the farmer, the manufacturer, the production-line worker, and, ultimately, the consumer. Unfortunately it is not a pretty picture.
Food, Inc. provides a somewhat dramatic yet ultimately honest look into the reality of where the vast majority of food in this country comes from. We are reminded that the picturesque farmhouse, the red barn with its single silo, the farmer with overalls and pitchfork, and the lush green fields full of cows happily munching away, are the exception rather than the rule these days. Unfortunately the more accurate view of American farms today entails a heavily mechanized landscape, with long steel windowless warehouses housing thousands of animals, and huge industrial factory-like production and processing facilities where both the animals and the people working in the facilities are treated with about as much respect and dignity as cogs in a machine.
I have seen quite a few food-related documentaries in the past few years, and in my opinion Food Inc. tops the charts. The filmmakers did an excellent job of presenting the problems inherent to our current industrial food production system from such a wide variety of perspectives that every viewer, no matter their background or interest in food, can resonate with some aspect of what is shared.
We learn the very personal story of Kevin, a 2 1/2 year-old boy who was killed by an E. coli-ridden hamburger, and we see how his mom is still fighting 7 years later to change the policies that led to the contamination in the first place. We hear from the farmers in the heartland of this country who are being sued by the chemical and seed company, Monsanto, for saving seed, an age old-practice handed down through the generations. In the arena of human health, the equation between the quality of our food and chronic illness is made quite clear (i.e., fast food/junk food = diabetes – it’s really not too much more complicated than that). We are reminded that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level. The less money you have, the more likely you are to be overweight, as the poorest quality calories, those coming from foods such as corn and soy, are subsidized by the government and are therefore the cheapest. And finally we get a perspective on the local organic vs. industrial organic debate, and are asked to form our own opinions about whether the current trajectory of big organic is something we want to support or not.
One reason I found the film so powerful is because it drew such clear links between the poor health of our agricultural lands and the increasingly poor health of citizens of this country. The realization that we are what we eat, that the food we put into our mouths does actually impact the cellular function of our bodies, and thus plays a huge role in the chronic diseases of our time, such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, is a simple yet profound truth, and one that increasingly more people are waking up to.
The documentary would not be complete without some time spent on the positive and the hopeful, and a look at some practical solutions to the stark picture painted throughout much of the film. And the filmmakers do a good job of this as well. I left the theater feeling very inspired. They remind us that the solution is simple: we have the opportunity to vote for a better food future every day, three times a day actually. Each time we pick up a fork we help to predict the future of the agricultural landscape in this country.
Farmers are adaptable. They will grow what consumers demand. We just have to keep telling them daily and consistently what we want. The astonishing growth of the organic food sector, and the increasingly strong local foods movement is a testament to the changing nature of our food system, and a reminder that positive progress is being made daily.
Now that we are officially into summer, and the array of locally-grown, delicious and nutritious foods are increasing exponentially — I just picked the first green beans from my garden, and will have the first zucchini in a couple days — take some time to check out your local farmers market, or see about arranging a day to go out and visit a farm. Educate yourself about the good food available in your community. If you don’t know where to start, visit www.localharvest.org to find out what’s growing near you.
This summer, vote with your dollar and your fork: you will reap the nutritional benefits, and the food will taste better too! If you are still uncertain of the connection between good health and good food, find a showing of Food Inc. close to you, and get ready to be educated and inspired. To read more about the film and find a showing, go to: www.foodincmovie.com.