Sunday, July 19, 2009

Food Inc.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have read that we went to see Food Inc. last night.

movie_poster-largeI hate to be one of those people who says a movie changed their life, because, man that is such a cliche, but. But.

Okay. I've always known that factory farming was pretty bad, but I think I found it easier to ignore that, or to tell myself it wasn't THAT bad. I also found that I would watch PETA ads or whatever, and just get annoyed that they were trying to manipulate me / my emotions by using the worst shots they could possibly find. Do you know what I mean? I knew that what they were showing was probably real, but I also figured it wasn't (it couldn't be!) the whole story.

Truthfully, I think anti-food industry types are just as capable of propaganda and misleading statistics as the pro-food industry types, and there were lots of figures in this movie that I found myself questioning. The film also did its share of emotional manipulation (you know what I mean, stuff like playing menacing music when the evil chicken farmers were on screen, playing sad music for the out-of-work small farmers, etc.) I'm not saying you shouldn't take this documentary with a grain of salt. Of course you should. You always should.


I think the thing that struck me the most, of all the material presented in this movie is that, for big business, it is a NUISANCE that animals are actually, you know, ALIVE and HAVE CONSCIOUSNESS. And in some case it wasn't even a nuisance; it was just ignored completely.

(By consciousness, I don't necessarily mean on par with humans, but even the simplest animals know the difference between comfort and danger. They know pain. They know to fight against death. )

Animals (and the workers as well, for that matter) are a commodity. That's it. That's the very simple fact at the heart of all of this. Animals provide meat which people will buy, so let's get as much of it out as cheaply and quickly as possible.

There were a couple of scenes that really drove this home for me. There was a chicken farm where most of the chickens couldn't even WALK. They take a few steps and then fall over. There stomachs are raw from lying on the ground or possibly dragging themselves along. And the reason they can't walk? People like white meat, so the chickens are bred / engineered to have giant breasts, so they're top-heavy and can't support themselves on their little legs. They're also bred to grow a lot faster (more meat!) and their internal organs can't keep up with the growth rate, so many of them die before they even get to the processing plant.

There was also a scene where they were collecting eggs, out of these huge drawers, and many of the eggs had actually hatched, so there were tiny chicks in there with the eggs. And to watch the people handling them, you would think the chicks were nothing more than broken eggs. They were just dumping this drawers onto conveyor belts. There were women positioned alongside the belt and it was their job to get rid of the chicks, so they were just picking them off the belt, honestly LIKE THEY WERE DEBRIS. They had a little machine next to them that the put the chick's head in, to kill them. (I'm not sure if it was shooting some electrical current into their head, or if it was an actual physical thing like a blade or something? But either way: head in, dead chick.) There were dozens of women, scooping up dozens of chicks a minute.

I eat meat. I LIKE meat. And I eat eggs and I drink milk and I eat cheese and yogurt and all that other stuff. And to be honest, I still don't plan to give any of that stuff up. I don't necessarily think it's wrong to eat animals or animal products; I think it's pretty natural. But there is NOTHING natural about the way most of our meat is currently provided to us.

A random thing that I found shocking: that meat is processed in such huuuuuge quantities, that when you buy a pound of beef at the grocery store, it has meat from MULTIPLE cows. (In the movie they said thousands!) Because it's not like the cows are ground up one at a time, right? They're put into huge vats and all ground up together. I don't know why that never occurred to me before, but doesn't that seem gross and weird?!

The even crazier thing is that this movie isn't even really about the animal welfare aspect of the food industry. That's just a SMALL PART of everything that is FUCKED UP about the food we eat. I just can't get into it all of it here, because there's so much, but it was well high-lighted by Michael Pollan (the author of The Omnivore's Dilemna, and In Defence of Food), who talked about how he had written a book about what we eat and where it comes, and how crazy it was that he HAD to write a book about what we eat and where it comes from. It should be so obvious: a tomato, an egg. But it's anything but.

Fortunately, the overall message of the movie is actually kind of hopeful, and not in a hippy-dippy kind of way ("Hug your local farmer!"). The message (delivered by the owner of Stonyfield Farms) is that (to paraphrase): We are not powerless, as consumers. We cast a vote every time we make a purchase, and it's up to us whether that vote is for local or non-local, organic or not organic, overly-processed, overly-packaged, cage-free, etc. He basically says, if consumers want it and demand it enough, eventually places like even Walmart will have to start carrying it. It's simple economics.

This movie actually made me very emotional, but the whole time I was watching it, I was worried about what Shaun was thinking. He is much more critical than I am -- or, I shouldn't say 'critical', really, but 'logical', and less likely to be swayed by arguments like, "But that baby chick was so cute and then that mean lady killed it!!!" But to my delight (?), he seemed affected by the movie as well, and as we walked home, we made a plan to start going to the Farmer's Market, making more effort to buy local (especially meats and animal products), and just generally being more aware.

Because I think the movie is right, we do cast a vote every time we make a purchase. I want to know more about what I'm voting for. And I'm fortunate enough that, right now in my life, I can afford the higher costs associated with buying local and organic. (Trust me, I get that not everyone can. Although the movie cited an interesting statistic -- that in North America we spend less on food than anywhere else on the planet, in any other time. We spend only 9% of our income on food, and apparently it's typically much more. I'd be interested to know how accurate that is, but if it's true, it may be a sign that we need to rethink what we consider 'too expensive' to buy.)

Anyway, sorry for the super long post! Since yesterday, I've been thinking about this stuff non-stop. I think that when my weight climbed to 257 lbs, it was because I had my eyes closed. I didn't want to think about what I was putting in my body: the thousands and thousands of calories, hundreds of grams of fats and sugars, etc. Eventually I realized: I don't want to do this anymore. So I opened my eyes to what I was doing, and I started to change, one choice at a time. I think this is another opportunity, where I can choose to open my eyes and make a change.