Sent to DS by the author; thanks, Tricia.
by Tricia Orr
Guest Writer, Dandelion Salad
August 9, 2009
Last night, I went to see the documentary everyone is talking about – Food, Inc., which clearly juxtaposes modern, industrialized agriculture with local, organic agriculture. Or at least that’s what I thought going into the film.
Now, most people would already agree that organic, pesticide-free vegetables are preferable to chemically-treated vegetables, and that farmers should be allowed to save their own seeds without Monsanto trying to sue them. The film’s focus on organic vegetables as a superior food source is not controversial.
However, the film’s tendency to glorify organic animal agriculture is where it becomes murky, and less convincing. While offering a stark, unflinching look at the ugly reality of modern, intensive animal agriculture: parts of animals slogging down conveyor belts, chickens in ammonia-filled sheds toppling over from their own weight, and squealing pigs crammed together on a “kill floor,” Food, Inc. paints a picture of organic animal agriculture with muted, tranquil hues of animals roaming freely over hundreds of acres. (Though for me, one of the more cringe-inducing scenes in the film is when Joel Salatan, an organic farmer stands on the outdoor “kill floor” of his farm waxing poetic about birds singing in the trees while chickens cry and scream in the background as their bodies are inverted, pushed into metal buckets and their necks slit open.)
Other than Salatan’s farm, only one other organic farm is shown briefly – a farm in Vermont that provides dairy to Stonyfield Farm, which has a prominent presence in the film. We are shown a two-second clip of dairy cows strolling out to pasture. How idyllic. I think I will go buy Stonyfield yogurt now! Hmm…but wait a second. Cows need to be continuously impregnated in order to produce milk. What happens to all the babies that the cows give birth to again and again and again (until they’re trucked to slaughter when worn out)? Are they sent to over-crowded, filthy feedlots to which the filmmaker is clearly opposed? Are the male calves forced into veal crates in darkened barns for the six short months they’re allowed to “live”? The film does give us the answer, but it’s crucial that people know what they’re indirectly contributing to by consuming dairy products, organic or not.
At the end of the film, moviegoers are given a list of things they can do: buy organic, buy local, buy in season. This is all wonderful advice; however, one obvious, common sense suggestion is glaringly absent from the list and that is simply to reduce (or eliminate) meat and dairy consumption. Because realistically, we Americans can’t keep consuming the amounts of meat and dairy that we currently consume and expect that animals will be treated humanely, something that the film suggests is important, and I would hope most people would agree with. Three hundred million people desiring to eat meat and drink milk at every meal precludes the possibility of the humane treatment of farm animals. Even Joel Salatan, the organic farmer in the film, admits that if the demand for his “product” increases he can only hope that he’d be able to remain true to himself, and to the animals he raises.
As one blogger put it, “the filmmakers might as well have issued a fatwa against even raising the possibility of vegetarianism.”http://www.vegan.com/blog/2009/06/25/a-vegan-take-on-food-inc/
Is that possibility still considered too “radical”? Let’s see – we’ve got polluted waterways. Why? Farm animal feces. We’ve got contaminated vegetables. Why? Farm animal feces. We’ve got monoculture farming of corn and soy. Why? Largely to feed farm animals. We’ve got climate change. Why? Partly due to the methane released by…you guessed it…farm animals. We’ve got an epidemic of digestive-related illness such as colon and pancreatic cancer. Why? Primarily because of the high saturated fat content in animal products. Hmm…and still the word “vegetarian” is considered too radical to mention in a film that purports to be giving people an honest look at food production in this country?
Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, when interviewed in the film says that at some point he realized that he needed to stop being David and become Goliath. Let’s remember, that in the end, Goliath loses to David. In the end, if the demand for organic meat and dairy grows, it will be forced to become the Goliath that the modern, intensive animal agriculture system is right now. And that, I think it is obvious, would be a giant step in the wrong direction.
The following link is a step in the right direction. http://www.veganoutreach.org/guide/gce.pdf
Originally raised in Ohio’s Farm Belt, Tricia now lives in NH and is a member of The NH Animal Rights League. Tricia is also a regular presenter on the Vegan-Vegetarian Solutions for a Sustainable Environment podcast at http://h2opodcast.com/veg.html