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The movie Food, Inc. is designed to make sure you never look at dinner the same way again.

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- by Bet Zimmerman

Food can kill you.  In the past decade, there have numerous cases where deadly strains of E. Coli bacteria have contaminated food.  As a result, consumers are increasingly concerned about food safety.  They are also more aware of the environmental impact of factory farming, which relies heavily on genetic engineering, hormones and pesticides.

Food, Inc.

The irony is that the average consumer does not feel very powerful.  They think that they are the recipients of whatever industry has put out there for them to consume.  Trust me, it’s the exact opposite.  When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting – for local or not, organic or lot.” - Gary Hirshberg, Stoneyfield Farm

Food, Inc. is a documentary that explores these concerns.  It exposes the way we grow and choose our food.  The film is loaded with alarming images - chickens re-designed to grow so fat so fast they can barely walk, manure-encrusted cattle packed into feedlots, and hamburger being rinsed with ammonia for disinfection.

The movie is a call to action. It features activist Michael Pollan (the author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and investigative journalist and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation.)  They note that we now live in a land where Cheetos are cheaper than carrots.  “We value cheap, fast and easy when it comes to food, like so many other things, and we have lost any connection to where our food comes from,” says Pollan.  We have forgotten that “quality matters as much as quantity, and yield is not the measure of a healthy food system.”  

Schlosser claims that, even with a limited income, it is possible to eat well and inexpensively.  He recommends avoiding processed and fast foods.  “But it takes more time and effort to do so, and that’s not easy when you’re working two jobs and trying to just to keep your head above water.” That means changes are also needed at the policy level.  Harking back to the successful battle against the tobacco industry, the film seeks to persuade individuals that they can induce industries to behave more responsibly. 

Food, Inc. reminds consumers that they can vote to change the system – three times a day.  Here are a half-dozen of the film’s recommendations:

  1. Buy from companies that treat workers, animals and the environment with respect. 
  2. The average meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to the supermarket.  When you go to the supermarket, choose foods that are in season to minimize the environmental impacts of transportation.  Buy foods that are grown locally.  Shop at a farmers market. 
  3. Ask your farmer’s markets to take food stamps.  Ask your school board to provide healthy school lunches.   
  4. Plant a garden, even if it is a small one. 
  5. Consider buying organic foods to limit your family’s exposure to chemicals. 
  6. Know what is in your food.  Read the labels to make informed choices.

In order to survive, both farmers and industry must deliver what the market demands.  Even huge, multi-billion dollar corporations make decisions based on customer preference.  As a result, organics are the fastest growing food segment, according to Food, Inc., with sales increasing 20%. 

“If you want to buy two dollar milk, you’re going to get a feedlot in your backyard,” says farmer Troy Roush. “People have got to start demanding good, wholesome food of us - and we’ll deliver, I promise you – we’re very ingenious people.”

If you are hungry for change, get more information at www.takepart.com/foodinc.


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Originally published in the Villager newspapers on January 8, 2010


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