Exposing the food producers who treat animals, workers, and the environment with disrespect, thinking only of the profit motive.
Last night I watched Food, Inc., the Academy Award nominee about the dismal state of conventional agriculture and factory farming. In this documentary film, the veil on the food industry is lifted. And what you’ll learn is eye opening and menu changing. The movie uncovers a scary truth: the FDA and USDA are run by individuals with close ties to the huge factory farm operations, so the government is not doing what it should to regulate factory farming. Food, Inc., points out that cheap food isn’t cheap. We pay for it with ill health and with environmental problems. And the public is starting to wake up. The movie likens where we are with food to what was going on with the powerful tobacco lobbies in the ’60s and ’70s. Eventually they lost power. The same is going to happen with food producers who treat animals, workers, and the environment with disrespect, thinking only of the profit motive.
Food, Inc., documents the many hazards of the American diet, including the reason we have so much antibiotic resistant E. coli in food. Cows are fed corn (when they’re supposed to be eating grass), and the corn diet (which causes them to fatten quickly) creates an environment in their gastrointestinal tracts that favors the growth of virulent E. coli. (Humans who eat a high-sugar diet also have gastrointestinal problems, notably heartburn.) The cattle are kept in feed lots and live in knee-deep manure. They arrive at the slaughterhouses with their coats covered with this manure, which is nearly impossible to clean off, so it gets in the meat. Plus the industrial runoff from factory farms contaminates rivers and other water sources. This isa vicious cycle that doesn’t occur in animals that are grass fed and allowed to roam. In addition to E. coli as a concern, the overuse of corn and soybeans to feed animals (also used by fast food chains), creates a calorie-laden diet which favors obesity and diabetes.
The film also covers the role of chemical giant Monsanto, and the fact that they patented a gene that makes soybeans resistant to the herbicide Roundup. As a result, these genetically-engineered soybeans can be grown with this weed killer in the environment. Unfortunately, this genetically modified soy (GMO) can get into the fields of farmers who are still using non-GMO soy and Monsanto can then sue these farmers for allegedly growing their soybeans without buying their seeds. What a nightmare. I’m happy to report that a few years ago, Stan Bennett, owner of Oakhurst Dairy here in Maine, stood up to Monsanto who sued him for stating that the Oakhurst dairy farmers didn’t use any artificial growth hormone. A compromise was eventually reached in which Oakhurst had to say on their labels that milk treated with growth hormone was recognized as safe. The good news is that Walmart now sells milk produced without artificial growth hormone. What a sea change!
The shining hero of the movie is Joel Salatin, a farmer who is a true steward of the land and of life. His farm and his animals fairly gleam with healthy vitality! In a video clip from a related film called Fresh, Salatin says, “I am a caretaker of creation. And what I’m supposed to do is leave it better than I found it. My job is to respect the design of nature.” And of course that would include making sure that farm animals have enough room to move around and can also go out in the sunlight and stretch and run!
Normally you can’t watch a documentary like this one without getting a little sick to your stomach. I promise you, you will never think of food the same way again. And that’s a very good thing. I urge you and your family to watch Food, Inc. Then go to their Web siteand explore the kinds of actions you can take. Those would include shopping at your local farmer’s markets and taking part in Community Supported Agriculture, which also supports your local farmers. Organic is catching on quickly with the demand increasing about 30 percent per year. Exciting.
p.s. In the bonus material we made for my new PBS special Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (which will air all over the U.S. in early June), you’ll be able to see some video clips of me at my favorite organic restaurant in Freeport, Maine—a place that’s been supporting organic farmers in our state for 25 years. You’ll see how I’m working locally to improve the choices in restaurant meals. I hope it will inspire you.