Friday, June 26, 2009

The obligatory food blogger post about Food, Inc.

I've been told recently that people are actually reading this so I guess I need to be better about updating it!

I've just returned from the Nashville premiere of Food, Inc. at the Belcourt Theater with a terrific panel discussion afterwards of food producers and activists. I feel like there probably isn't much for me to say about the film that someone else hasn't already said a lot better than I could - except to beg anyone reading to go see it, convince others to go see it, and spread the message of what's happening to our food supply.

I think a few of the things that really struck me given what I do for a living is how powerless the government really has become in terms of food safety and regulation in this country. I work every day with government regulations on products being imported from other countries (I don't currently deal in any food products), and we are inundated with regulations on everything from where the materials come from that make up the product to where it is manufactured, how it is labeled, etc. I can't import a Christmas ornament without supplying a ream of documents showing who made it in which country and that it is labeled correctly so the end consumer knows what they are purchasing - yet the meat packers in this country can sell a hamburger in the supermarket containing beef from hundreds of cows (in ONE burger) that could have come from several countries and they don't have to label that product in any way that the consumer can trace it back to where it came from. Take the toy recalls of last year for lead paint and other dangers - within days products are removed from the shelves, the company selling them identifies the factory in China where they came from, notices go out to consumers, etc. And this is on a product that causes developmental damage in children - not mitigating the danger there, but it's a long term effect of repeated exposure that is the problem with lead poisoning. E coli poisoning can kill a child within a matter of days and it can take WEEKS to trace back to the source of the problem and for the manufacturer to track and pull product off the shelves once a sample tests positive for food born illness. It makes no sense to me. Since 9/11 we've heard so much hype about the danger of terrorists infiltrating the food supply in America and how devastating that would be. The food supply has already been infiltrated and it's not only accepted by our government, most of the folks in a position to make laws to regulate the food safety in this country are former lobbyists or executives of the companies they are supposed to regulate.

Food safety is just one issue presented, but I think it's an incredibly important one to get out there because I think selling people on the idea that food grown responsibly and sustainably is also food that is healthy and safe is key. No one wants to feed their family something dangerous, no parent wants to feed their kid burgers that have been washed with ammonia because the beef is so diseased and contaminated that it is the only way to make it edible (true), but they don't know it's happening because the system is set up to keep them in the dark. The system is set up to grow food cheaper, faster, and bigger - at the expense of pretty much everyone except the few large corporations that profit from it. There's so much that I could write about it's almost making my head spin right now. I can't think of any other issues that fire me up more than food and the importance of a safe, responsible, healthy food supply system.

I realize that I come at this from a position of privledge (OMG y'all I swear as I typed that sentence MJ's "Man in the Mirror" just came on my iTunes - Michael is telling me from the grave to make some changes!). I'm single, I made decent money and perhaps most importantly I have the luxury of access to information and time to educate myself on where my food comes from. I'm not feeding a family, I don't have to make a lot of hard choices about where my next meal comes from. I can spend a saturday afternoon browsing the farmer's market to pick out fresh produce, local meat and eggs, etc. and then spend hours cooking all kinds of tasty things. A large part of my free time is spent around food, reading about food, making food, eating food, etc. It's a passion for me and something that I'm very invested in learning about, I know this isn't the case for most people. But the thing that gets me most fired up I think is that it shouldn't be like this. It shouldn't be considered a luxury or some sort of elitism to have access to fresh, non-processed food. Arugula shouldn't be something that Republicans use to paint Obama as elite and out of touch with "hometown USA", it should be growing in every backyard in America and something that anyone can throw with a little oil and vinegar as part of their meal for much less than they can buy a cheeseburger at McDonald's. When we can buy a burger that has been processed from so many sources, trucked all over the country, frozen, reheated, etc. cheaper than we can buy a bunch of carrots that came out of the farm less than 20 miles away - something is very wrong with our food system.

So yeah, as I suspected this film just solidifies my desire to get out there and do more work, more direct activism, and more education. I can feel a fundamental shift happening in the way I look at the world and my place in it and unplugging from "the system" a little more each day.

Go see this film if you're even the slightest bit interested in what you put in your body - but especially if you're not interested. Don't continue to think that meat comes in a nice wrapped package in the supermarket and there is not an animal life attached to it and several human lives affected by the process of killing it and getting it to you. Don't think that all food is equal and that the FDA/USDA will protect you and your family from contracting a food born illness or put human safety above corporate profit. And most of all, don't forget that corporations do not care about feeding you and nourishing you and your family. Any time we take responsibility for the act of feeding ourselves and those we care about, we are doing a part to create change in the system. Cooking your own food, learning where it comes from and making informed choices, these are becoming subversive acts in our society. Don't wait until all the good choices are gone and these small farmers trying to do good are pushed out by big agriculture before you speak out. Vote with your meals and your food budget, if enough people demand good food the companies who supply it will have no choice but to make it happen.

Good lord y'all, when did I become such a hippie?