By Jordan Wright
In his new documentary “Food, Inc.,” scheduled to premiere here on June 19, producer Robert Kenner lifts the veil on the shameful underbelly of food production in this country. Kenner is the director of the Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” narrated by Al Gore. It’s now the fourth largest-grossing documentary of all time. After the screening I wondered, could “Food, Inc.” have the same radical, policy-changing influence on business as usual in the food production world as “An Inconvenient Truth” did when it challenged and informed us on climate change? Could we continue to ignore the realities of an industry gone haywire?
Featuring interviews with the iconic food author and activist Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World”), Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation” and Joel Salatin, real-life farmer of Polyface Farms, a sustainable, organic model farm in Swoope, VA, and author of “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven”, the directors have proffered the reality of agri-business in this country. This is an inconvenient truth of a different kind. It reveals how our nation’s food is being raised, produced, slaughtered, cloned, genetically modified, seed patented and engineered, and co-opted and controlled by a few mega-conglomerates. Monsanto, Smithfield and Con-Agra top the list of eco-villains.
The film further enlightens us that Monsanto holds the patent for a genetically-modified soybean called “Roundup Ready Soybeans” that produces 90 percent of all soy-contained products consumed in U.S. (soybeans are found in tens of thousands of our food products). It renders the beans impervious to the popular pesticide Roundup. Over 100 seed companies are owned and controlled worldwide by Monsanto, who is also the world’s second largest agrochemical company. Check out http://vicinsea.blogspot.com/2008/07/seeds-of-shame.html for a lengthy yet partial list.
I should mention here that the European Union does not allow any GMs (genetically-modified foods or seeds) but are under constant pressure by agro-lobbyists bringing lawsuits demanding sole use of their products. In Germany Monsanto has been suing to overturn a cultivation ban against the GM Maize Mon 810 as they work to consolidate the world seed market. You have to ask yourself why the USDA and FDA have not protected us as well.
Third World countries do not have the luxury of refusing these seeds. They are foisted on them through corporate domination and food/seed donations. The United States soybean industry has been co-opted as well. American farmers who try to use their own seed stock are threatened with multi-million dollar lawsuits and dogged by surveillance teams working underground, who often use the testimony of neighboring farmers to turn them in to Monsanto, who is determined to prosecute all farmers that do not use their patented seeds. It has created a culture of fear among farmers who are forced to purchase these seeds against their will.
All soybean seeds in America are owned, yes, owned, controlled and patented by Monsanto. Try to digest that. They have control of our foods from seed to supermarket. It’s a stunning reversal of our government agencies’ past protections of grower and consumer.
In “Food, Inc.” workers with hidden cameras document our nation’s slaughterhouses, the cruel treatment of the animals, the appalling conditions of the packing plants, and the slave-like abuse of workers, mostly undocumented, and therefore unprotected by unions. The film asks, “Who else would perform this dangerous work without decent pay, any hope of promotion, horrid living conditions and no medical insurance?”
The power of this film cannot be overstated. It is a call to arms for those who eat, cook, garden, farm and love animals.
We see Salatin on his iconic farm against the backdrop of the Shenandoah Mountains surrounded by his adorable happy pigs. He shows us the caring relationship he has with his animals in stark contrast to the grisly feedlots and abattoirs used in industrial farming practices. In his book “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven,” Salatin writes, “For too long the food system has rewarded producers who flaunt human cleverness in the face of nature and believe human arrogance can trump nature’s principles forever.” The message suggests that in our world, science trumps nature.
Since my food and gardening awareness was heightened in the ’70s while living in Berkeley, CA, in my small way I have tried to convince friends that they should buy or grow organic foods as much as possible, not only for our good health (the film informs us that one in three Americans born after 2000 will contract diabetes) but also to support and encourage these dedicated farmers whose philosophy of soil conservation, planet preservation and animal-friendly ways are the compassionate fabric that reflects a civilized society.
Our family still keeps a small garden, growing vegetables without pesticides, where we can be sure we have fresh herbs and produce throughout the summer. If you don’t have the space or a back yard check out a community garden whose plots are rented annually for about the cost of a few pounds of hothouse tomatoes and a bag of micro greens.
For concerned readers that may be skeptical that our government would ever change, or in some cases enforce its existing policies against the irresponsible behavior of these multi-national corporations, there is hope. They changed labels to reflect additives and preservatives, GMs and fat content, percentages of vitamins and country-of-origin (this after China’s addition of melamine into baby formula). They labeled, too, for organic which operates under strict guidelines. And they fought and won against tobacco, one of the biggest industries in the world. Consumers demanded it.
There is already a plan in place for each citizen to take part. Here’s how it can work. What if I were to tell you that there is a special national election going on right now you may not be aware of, one whose influence will be felt far and wide? And just suppose you have been nominated to be the sole candidate and your election to this powerful position has been guaranteed.
You won’t need to ally yourself with any known national party or hire a high-priced K Street lobbying firm to promote your agenda. Your campaign won’t need placards or direct mail, robocalls or public appearances. You’ll be free of outside funding and won’t be beholden to special interest groups. Any lobbying will be strictly up to you — you can canvass your friends and family or neighbors and businesses at will. And the payoff is huge. The future of your health and the health of those you love and feed is at stake. If you want to get on board, here’s how it works.
Every time you purchase organic foods and locally produced foods you are insuring the health of the planet and your own too. And by using your food dollars, as the film suggests, you can vote three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. How empowering! This is why Giant, Safeway, Wal-Mart and others decided to join the organic movement. It just made good business sense. The consumer — that’s where you come in — drove the market.
Okay, I’ve heard the arguments:
“It’s more expensive.” Here’s what Pollan in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” has to say to that: “As a society we Americans spend only a fraction of our disposable income feeding ourselves. Americans today spend less on food … than any other industrialized nation, and probably less than any people in the history of the world.”
“It’s hard to find.” Make an effort to find the farmer’s market that is selling local farm products, plant your own, have a few meatless days a week; it’s a start, and if you pay a little more for organic, think of it as an investment in the health of yourself, your family and your planet.
“I don’t have time.” Get in touch with your food. Carve out one day a week to make a soup or stew that makes enough to freeze for later. You will notice the difference in the taste and quality of freshly picked and organically raised product and it will touch your soul.
You hold the power to change the system every time you shop for groceries or don’t stop for fast food. See this film, meet the farmers who care about us, and vote with your wallet!
For comments and queries on this article, email Jordan@whiskandquill.com.