Monday, August 3, 2009

CarFree Guy Recommends

This weekend I had the opportunity to watch Food, Inc. a recent documentary showing at the Magnolia Theater in West Village. While anybody familiar with two of the prominent interviewees, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan (who got a lot of press within the last year for his book the Omnivore's Dilemma and his open letter to Obama), nothing in this comes as a surprise. But, for us American's we need things in moving picture format to absorb the information apparently, spoon fed if you will, with loads of corn syrup... So we have this documentary to show for it, which is well worth the time and 10 bucks.

The film does an effective job of completing its stated goal of pulling back the curtain on what happens from farm to fork and the potentially related and personal outcomes of this all-interconnected chain without grand standing or stepping onto some sort of Vegan soap box. One of the striking contrasts shown effectively, is that we're so disconnected from what actually happens that they bring the process of the healthy, natural farm-raised version of killing animals and puts it right on film. We get no such video of the actual slaughter, maintaining that lazy arm length distance of what happens to put that steak on your plate (or ketchup or coke for that matter).

On the farm, we see chickens getting their throats cut. In the factory floor, we see live hogs get shoveled in one side, and dead hogs rolling down a conveyor belt on the other. What happened on the inside? That is left to your imagination, but the disconnected killing efficiency was eerily remiscent to the Holocaust (obviously, I don't mean to compare killing of pigs to people, the method, efficiency, and impersonal nature of it is what I'm after). This isn't a "We Love Animals" movie, it's more about "Look at what it is doing to us."
The other issue that struck me was that this is just such a small detail, just one industry. Even if you wanted to fight it, you would get the health care industry and the insurance industry's backhand upside your head. Which brings me to the underlying issue that is raised in a broader documentary, The Corporation. The fundamental flaw behind ALL industries of which are very similar, in that they destroy the very support systems (the consumers) and raw materials (and the planet) sustaining their particular industry for the sole purpose of growth.
They will tell you it is about cost savings for the consumer, but it never actually is. Do you really think these businesses came to dominate their market segment through benevolence? Nike shoes didn't get cheaper when they started using little boys and girls in Taiwan to lace your sneakers. It merely meant more profits to the shareholders and bigger bonuses for the clever executives who are pressured to find new ways to "cut costs" i.e. externalize costs. You know, like health care, pollution, etc.

Lastly, it is always important to note that these businesses, like the primary 4-6 goliaths (or leviathans) in all industries, have more representation in our elected government than do the people. Exactly none of these problems can be solved until that is, I don't care if WalMart serves nothing but organic milk on all of its shelves (the movie seemed downright apologetic towards WalMart). It still has fundamental issues of its own.

Lastly, I was struck by how NOT FREE anybody and everybody in the movie and watching the movie really is, ignoring all the empty platitudes from Fox News for the moment. We don't know where are food is coming from. We don't know what is in it. We don't know the ramifications on human and planetary health. The local farmers have no choice but to do business the way the industries giants want them to do business and crush their profit margins in order to increase their own.
In many ways, we have ourselves our very own (and very pure) version of fascism by Mussolini's definition, who originally coined the term, without all that messy extermination of Jews stuff. It's a much happier version, with a smiley face.


WORST: The very end notes to the movie, they suggest voting "three times per day" with your wallet/food choice. But, during the movie they made the very point that the poor can't afford to eat healthily and are the ones most effected by the slop the industry puts out. As Pollan states, "farm subsidies make the candy bar cheaper than the carrot."

BEST: There is something for the fiscal conservative and the tree hugging liberal. The underlying theme is the tremendous taxpayer subsidies for grain farming and particularly corn, which they examine at length as being in some form within nearly all food we consume, mostly as sweeteners.

BEST (1st and 2nd runner-ups): The two local farmers quoted near the end of the movie.

First, one suggests that we should different goals for our policies. In his words, "how about we measure the health of our system based on having less sick people in the hospital next year." Basically, this means focusing on outputs as goals rather than inputs, which I'm seeing in increasing frequency as a measure of success and it makes sense.

Second, the other local farmer asking the viewers of the video, to count on "the local farmer and they won't let you down." I have said something similar many times. We don't need industry "to give us jobs." People create their own jobs and businesses to meet the needs/demands of society. This is paternalistic hokey pokey to maintain the status quo. If you haven't noticed humans are very resourceful and capable, but 20th century industrialism treats/makes us stupid and incompetent.