Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review of "Food, Inc"

Do you eat genetically modified food? Yes, you do, unless you grow and produce everything yourself. According to Food, Inc, which is now available on DVD, 70% of the processed food in the supermarket has genetically modified food in it. If you consume any soy products -- including "vegetable" oil -- there's a 90% chance that you're consuming genetically modified soy.

We went to the theater to see Food, Inc when it was released this past summer, and within a couple minutes, I was trying to remember if I had anything in my purse with which I could take notes. The information comes fast and furious in this documentary, so if you seriously want to know more about your food, you might want to plan to watch it at least a couple times before sending it back to Netflix. Then again, you might just want to buy it.

The movie relies heavily on information from Michael Pollan (author of Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation), who also narrate parts of the film. We are taken through commercial chicken farms and a pork slaughterhouse to see the plight of meat animals, as well as the workers in those facilities. It doesn't take long for the viewer to realize that poultry farmers are little more than indentured servants to corporate giants like Tyson. After taking out loans of half a million dollars or more to build their poultry houses, they have no choice but to raise chickens according to the corporation's rules -- and subsist on wages that hover around the poverty level. The deleted scenes on the DVD offer more of the interview with the poultry farmers, giving the viewer a better understanding of their plight.

Stories from a meat-packing plant were equally disturbing. At the largest pork slaughterhouse in the world, 32,000 hogs are slaughtered every day. Workers who handle pork all day long wind up with infections under their fingernails, which then fall off. In the deleted scenes, we hear about a 200-pound dead hog falling on a pregnant woman, who then had a miscarriage. Another worker tells of how there was not even a moment of silence before returning to work when a man was trampled to death by hogs. Because of the bad treatment of workers at the plant, most employees are now bussed in from a 100-mile radius around the facility.

We follow a family through a fast-food drive-through lane, as well as a supermarket and listen to them justify why they buy cheeseburgers for their daughters but not fresh fruit -- even though their young daughter begs for a pear in the grocery store. "It's too expensive." The father, who has Type II diabetes spends $130 for a bottle of 50 pills, and that's only one of his medications. They seem conflicted about whether a change in diet might actually help his condition, even though the evidence is quite clear. I personally took care of my father for two years before he died, and within a month after he moved in with me, he no longer needed any of his three different diabetes medications, and we kept his blood sugar under control with diet until his death. Type II diabetes used to be rare. Today, $1 out of every $5 spent on health care is spent on diabetic patients.

There is some good news though. There is a visit to Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia, where he raises pastured chickens and grass-fed beef. He talks about healing the land, our planet, and our bodies by switching to sustainable agricultural practices. One comment that resonated with me was when Salatin said that we should strive to have fewer sick people next year. That would be a worthy goal.

These are just a few highlights. I can't possibly cram all the info into a blog post, so if you're serious about healthier eating, I highly recommend this video.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also want to read my review of Fresh, another documentary released this year about our food system.

For more posts on real food, check out Real Food Wednesday.


Ann Duncan said...

Last Friday filled a room with 200+ people to see Food, Inc. and I agree, it IS a must see!


Sunflower Hill Farm said...

Deborah, I just have to say how much I enjoy reading your blog. You say what you think and feel and make no bones about it. That is to be admired! I'm always really excited when I see a new post and eventhough I don't comment often, I'm here in WI reading. Keep up the good work!


Laura said...

I'm actually in the middle of watching this. It's hard to know what to do with the info. Kind of makes me feel helpless since I live in the city and not on a farm.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Ann, the theater was full when we saw it in the summer, too!

Thanks, Jodi! I'm glad to hear you enjoy my posts.

Laura, there is a lot you can do. Shop at a farmer's market and talk to the farmers about their food -- ask questions about how it's grown and raised. Many larger farmer's markets sell meat and cheese, in addition to produce, so if you live in a big city, it might actually be easier for you to find sustainable meat and dairy than if you lived in a small town. You can also start a garden. Once you get addicted to the taste of fresh food, it's tough to go back. City chickens are getting more and more popular. Many cities (including Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, OR, and more) allow chickens in the cities. Three to six hens can provide you with a dozen or two eggs a week.

Anonymous said...

Somehow I've only just heard of this film - have to get it asap and watch w/ hubby and the kids. Thanks for the review!

SkippyMom said...

Deborah that is great info you gave about Farmer's Markets, but unfortunately where we live they do not exist from mid October until mid May.

There is no way to purchase from farmer's markets during the winter months - I would love to can/freeze what we purchase in the summer months [and love our CSA] but don't have the room to store all of it.

I did look into a heritage turkey for Thanksgiving [after reading about them on your blog] but the cost of one turkey in our area [we are pretty high capita here] is in the $145 range - which is the cost of our entire dinner for 10 people if I buy a store turkey.

We do eat healthy - as we can. I am not making excuses, believe me - but sometimes it is simply not possible. I can't justify a $145 turkey but I certainly can afford a pear over a cheeseburger.

Laura said...

I do try to go to the farmers market in the summer, but our area is like Skippymom and is pretty non existant in the winter months. I haven't found a good source of meat, but will try to make more of an effort. As for having my on chickens/garden... I live in an apartment and don't really have the space for much. I am sure fresh tastes much better...cooked some store broccoli last night that looked great, but tasted awful! Thanks for your suggestions. I need to see what more my city has to offer.

MaskedMan said...

Actually, if you eat anything at all, unless you picked it wild, or hunted it, you're eating genetically-modified foods. What else is selective breeding but genetic manipulation on a slower time-scale? Every human crop and domestic food animal has been selectively bred over history to produce more, resist pests, and be more drought and/or disease resistant.

GM foods radically accelerate the process, true, but you're fooling yourself if you think we haven't been monkeying with the genetics of our food from the very begining of agriculture.

Anonymous said...

While I understand what MaskedMan is saying, there is a world of difference between splicing animal genes into plants(what they're doing now) and selective breeding (what's been going on since agriculture began). It is the cross-species GMO that scares the heck out of me.

Millie said...

We watched Food, Inc last weekend. I had suspected alot of what was said but it was so much more than I had imagined. My husband who has completely supported my new whole foods adventure watched it with me. He loved Joe Salatin and what he is doing. I think it made a huge change in his opinion of WHY we are eating this way. We still have a long ways to go before we are eating the 'clean' diet we want but anything is better than the way we used to eat.

Heidi said...

We too saw it at the cinema and I know what you mean about needing a notebook! I was wanting to see it again and now that you mention there are deleted scenes I am going to have to get my hands on the DVD.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Millie -- Yes! That's what I'm talking about. Do what you can! It's taken me 20 years to get where I am today with diet. As long as you're educating yourself and moving in the right direction, that's the important thing. It's not realistic to think anyone can change overnight.

Masked Man -- While Webster might agree with your definition of "genetically modified," that's not what the term legally means in 2009. When Monsanto creates a genetically modified soybean (or corn or potato, etc), they've created something so unique that they get a patent on it. If anyone saves their seed -- or even if their pollen contaminates the soybean or corn in an adjacent field -- Monsanto sues for theft of their technology.

Abiga/Karen said...

You can raise chickens in some cities. I went to a chicken raising class in Urbana, IL right near the downtown area. A family raises chickens right in their own back yard, some laying hens and also every year hens for their dinner table too. We in the class helped out to learn all the steps in his yard and garage. He also composts and raises food there. A food coop is downtown and also a farmers market each summer. A bit pricey but I think most people could eat better by wasting a lot less food too. And like you said it took you years to get to the point you are at so it is worth it for each thing you change on your food tables.My grandson went with me to learn the whole process and we want to do it next year for ourselves. Blessings.

MaskedMan said...

Deborah - I'm not intersted in either Webster *or* the legal definition. I'm interested in the scientific fact.

Don't even begin to fool yourself into believing that the traditional methods are benign, either. Mankind has screwed himself royally in the past with large-scale fatal events, leading to massive social upheaval, through traditional methods. Witness, for instance, the Potato Famine in Ireland. The Lumper potato, and it's disease, devestated Ireland. Ireland and the United States were both radically alterered due to the famine and resultant social displacement brought on by traditional agricultural techniques. Nor is the Potato Famine the only such example. I will point out, however, that it is a massively larger example than anything that can be demonstrated in GM crops.

The real point is, the genie was out of the bottle a long, long time ago - It cannot be put away. It cannot be avoided. The best we can hope for is that reasonable controls and vigilant watch dogs can be set on the agricultural industry.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

I'm sorry, I don't see your point about the potato famine. That did not happen because of any type of genetic modification or selective breeding. It happened because they had a monoculture -- only one type of potato. When that potato was susceptible to the blight, it destroyed their main food source. Had they planted many different types of potatoes, the famine would not have happened, because very few are susceptible to that blight.


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