Friday, March 5, 2010

Food For the Future

I just finished watching the movie Food, Inc, which is nominated for an Academy Award tomorrow night. While several movies have addressed the theme in the past, what's surprising about this movie is the ending.

Everyone knows that corporations took over the farms decades ago and turned them into factories--that's old news. We know that animals are treated very badly in this system, very badly, so badly that no one ever sees, or wants to see, or is allowed to see pictures from these places. We know that farmers are subsidized to grow corn and soybeans, so that everything is now made of corn and soybeans. We know that cattle evolved to eat grass (very few animals do this), but now they are fed corn, even though it makes them sick, because the corporate model puts the cows into little square lots of manure, where no grass will grow.

We know that the corporate model has created a culture of fast food--because people want cheap, fast food--and now people are increasingly obese and sick.

But it's a free country. And some people might be surprised to learn that the movie does not endorse some radical left-wing notions of socialism and government control. It does not paint a picture of corporate machines that need to be dismantled. No, Food Inc. makes some very sensible conclusions. The giant food corporations, for example, are not evil. These companies:
  • exist to make profits
  • will aggressively promote their products
  • will attack when threatened
  • will adapt to market changes
Sensible, especially the final point. Corporations cannot be trusted to plan for the future, but they will adapt.

Recently, organic foods are on the rise--people want them, so big corporations are getting into organics in a big way. Eventually, the optimist will say, the corporate model will change so that cattle can eat grass again and farmers can farm, really farm, with rotating crops, natural fertilizers, and with subsidies for complying with this new organic corporate model.

A good book to read is Omnivore's Dilemma, also is a sensible look at food. In fact, the book's author appears in the film.


  1. It's a complex issue....

    In arid climates such as the Southwestern United States, livestock grazing has severely degraded riparian areas, the wetland environment adjacent to rivers or streams. People have long recognized that riparian zones and rivers are the lifeblood of the western landscape, being more productive and home to more plants and animals than any other type of habitat. Scientists refer to riparian zones as hotspots of biodiversity, a characterization that is particularly apparent in arid and semiarid environments (like Nevada, where over 80% of the 300 represented terrestrial wildlife species are "directly dependent on riparian habitat"), where such zones may be the only tree-dominated ecosystems in the landscape. The presence of water, increased productivity, favorable microclimate, and periodic flood events combine to create a disproportionately higher biological diversity than that of the surrounding uplands.

    "According to the Arizona state park department, over 90% of the original riparian zones of Arizona and New Mexico are gone". A 1988 report of the GAO was equally grim, estimating that 90% of the 5,300 miles of riparian habitat managed by the BLM in Colorado was in unsatisfactory condition, as was 80% of Idaho's riparian zones, concluding that "poorly managed livestock grazing is the major cause of degraded riparian habitat on federal rangelands."

  2. I was thinking more about an ideal world, a new era of small family farms, subsidized to grow orgranic, each of which would have a net positive effect on the environment.

    Here is how one guy is doing it. This is featured in the movie: Polyface Farms. Of course, he can't compete with Walmart, but he doesn't want to. And since the factory jobs are disappearing, maybe this makes sense--a return back to the farm. Like he says, it takes warm bodies to farm this way, not computers and machinery.

  3. I have Food, Inc in our queue. I am never sure if I really want to see this stuff, but I do anyway. Thanks for the review!