Sunday, July 12, 2009

Food, Inc

We went to see Food, Inc. yesterday. In fact, we went to a Whole Foods sponsored viewing of the movie (we did pay for the movie) which included a panel discussion following the movie, free samples from Whole Foods and a wine tasting plus food from Whole Foods. Overall, the movie was as I expected - it took a lot of information from The Omnivores Dilemma (and presumably Fast Food Nation but I haven't read that yet.) It was fairly graphic in its presentation of slaughter houses so if you weren't a vegetarian before, you might consider being one now. Poor animals. The biggest impact that it made on me is that I'm not sure I can eat at a restaurant any more.

I was a bit disappointed that they didn't get any of the major corporations to comment on the content. Nor did they talk to anyone with a different perspective than 'the corporations are evil and they are making us sick.' I do believe that like most other large corporations, the focus is on generating the biggest profit and that the choices made are to maximize profit with minimizing risk. But, that means that there is some risk and when you are talking about food, that risk can be deadly. I also wish that the movie had more information from government authorities on their take on the situation. Why is the FDA so impotent? What is being done to change this? Is there any move to have oversight of agriculture corporations? One thing that is misleading is that the movie doesn't discuss the fact that most of the soybeans grown in the country are used for animal feed, not for people food.

The panel discussion was interesting (if too short) and included many local people:
Particia Stansbury (Epic Gardens)
Mark "Coach" Smallwood (Local Forager for Whole Foods)
Lisa Taranto (Tricycle Gardens)
Sally Norton (Nutritionist from VCU)
Jonah Fogel (Virginia Cooperative Extension Service)
Lisa Dearden (Center for Rural Culture)
Ellen Frackleton (Agriberry)

Coach was a low impact farmer and was recruited by Whole Foods to source local, responsibly grown food and meat for stores in the mid Atlantic region. I would have liked to have heard more from him. He was definitely a great choice as a spokesperson representing Whole Foods. All of the panel was in favor of supporting local farmers. The basic take home message was if you don't talk to the person making your food, you don't know what went into creating it. Even when things are labeled organic, the animals may not be treated the way you would think. Any food that is mass produced is typically pooled from many suppliers which always raises the risk of food safety. Also, everyone on the panel felt like there needs to be more government involvement in stepping up safety regulations and policing these large corporations.

I left the moving feeling fortunate that I have the money and time and availability of good food, that I can choose to know the farmers where my food comes from. I can cook most of our meals from scratch and I can make informed decisions about what we eat. Most of the country does not have this choice or the means to make this choice. I feel like I should come up with a way to use some mathematical modeling to explore risk/cost/safety issues...

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Thalia said...

It sounds interesting. I think I enjoyed (appreciated is a better word, maybe) _Fast Food Nation_ even more than _The Omnivore's Dilemma_. Very well-written, good research, insane stuff going on, particularly with the slaughterhouse industry.

I think the FDA has been hampered for decades now from several fronts, including presidents who want to look like they don't want "big government", the removal of tons of inspectors for the FDA and USDA, and politicians from agribuisiness states, who have a vested interest in protecting the agribuisinesses that are actually helping to destroy family farms.

Sounds like it's a good movie. I think they'll be preaching to the choir with me, but they can preach on, preach on.