Sunday, June 26, 2011

You Are What You Eat: Food,Inc.

This morning, Crystel and I watched the documentary Food, Inc. It's about how the food industry has changed, mostly for the worse, since the middle of the last century. We don't tend to think about where our food comes from, and that's a shame. Ignoring what we put in our bodies and where we spend our money is not only affecting our health, but the world we live in. Spending our money with irresponsible companies is essentially giving them our vote of confidence and encouraging their behavior

Most of the food we buy from supermarkets is produced by a handful of large companies, and the methods to maximize the bottom line are becoming increasingly precarious and unsustainable. For example, as more and more small local farmers go out of business, our food is traveling further and further to get to our plates. We all know the ramifications of increased oil consumption on the cost of the products we buy, but the more important consequence is the environmental impact of all this extra fuel. Also, as we try to cram more and more animals into a limited space and feed them foods they weren't meant to live on, we will continue to see the quality of our food deteriorate and the incidence of food borne illness rise.

One thing that struck me while watching the movie, is how far removed we are from the origins of the meat we consume. Food, Inc. Does a good job of not pushing a vegetarian agenda, but instead focuses on the terrible conditions at the large slaughterhouses in America. Both the animals and the workers are in unacceptable conditions. What used to be a very respectable job is now considered one of the worst professions. So much so, that workers sometimes have to be bussed from as far as 100 miles away because the local workforce refuses to be employed there.

These terrible conditions are contrasted by a very intelligent farmer in Virginia, who shows how you can still raise animals for food while treating the animals to the kind of life they deserve. All the animals are allowed to roam free and enjoy a good quality of life while they are here. Of course that model isn't possible with the gigantic "food factories," but it would be possible if we had more local farms. Seeing the local farmer and how he treats his animals and workers shows that there is a humane way to produce animal products for consumption.

When it comes to plant-based foods, the government is subsidizing certain foods like corn, promoting over-production and allowing the foods to be sold below the cost to produce. The problem with this is that all the subsidizing seems to be promoting a reduced cost for unhealthy foods. A much better model would be to charge the true cost for each crop and let that money flow directly to the farmers. Government should focus its involvement more on promoting safe and healthy food choices and better working conditions for the food industry employees. Ensuring better treatment of the animals in the food chain should also be a focus.

I think more and more people are going to keep demanding and paying a premium for local, humanely-raised animal products as well as locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. People are becoming more aware, and that's a good thing. A stroll around one of the many farmer's markets here in the Memphis area proves that. People are talking to the farmers, asking questions and trying to make better decisions.

Of course, not everyone understands the consequences of the food supply system in America. I encourage everyone to watch Food, Inc, and I promise, it will make you reconsider your grocery buying habits. As of the time of this post, it is available on Netflix for instant streaming.

You can also find a ton of good information and learn what you can do to make a difference here.

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