Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fight Back Friday: Review of "Fresh!"

Nothing like an injury to make you slow down and catch up. Thursday afternoon I was carrying two buckets of water and tripped outside the barn. I went splat on the ground, and the two buckets flew into the air. Everything hurt, and I was crying. But part of me wanted to laugh when I thought about how ridiculous I must have looked laying flat on my face, soaking wet, and covered with manure and straw from head to foot.

Being stuck in bed with ice on my knee, I remembered that I've been wanting to participate in Fight Back Friday ever since I discovered it a couple weeks ago. Now I finally have time! Fight Back Fridays are sponsored by blogger Food Renegade. But I know a lot of my readers are food renegades too. Who are you? Food renegades are "the people who opt out of the industrialized food system, distrust standard nutritional advice, and embrace Real Food. They’re the people who are fighting back against the dominate food culture — one forkful of food at a time."

For my first Fight Back Friday post, I decided to review the documentary, Fresh, which we screened on our farm a couple weeks ago. If you haven't seen it, find a screening near you. Better yet, buy the DVD and watch it -- several times!

For me, the most eerily depressing part of the film was the interview with modern poultry farmers (a husband and wife) as they talked about the "improvements" in raising chickens over the last 10 years -- as we see day-old chicks dumped onto the ground of the poultry house. A few facts plainly discussed by the couple: There are 27,600 to 29,000 chickens per house. Antibiotics are in the feed for the chicken's health and well-being. The chickens wouldn't grow so fast if they weren't healthy and happy. The couple doesn't exactly look happy; they look resigned as they talk about how they have to work with this one poultry company, because they have millions of dollars invested in buildings, which would be empty if they didn't sign a seven-year contract with the corporation.

Several experts are interviewed during the film, including Michael Pollan, who says modern agriculture is unsustainable because it can't go on. It can't sustain itself. The only reason modern ag can grow large numbers of animals in close confinement is because they're using antibiotics to keep them from getting sick and dieing. "Nature doesn't like monocultures, and sooner or later, she will destroy them." I love this line -- sounds like something from Jurassic Park, and it's true. Monocultures don't exist in nature.

George Naylor, a conventional corn farmer from Jefferson, Iowa, says farmers did not have to spray for bugs on soybeans many years ago. He lifts a soybean leaf full of holes and says, "They never used to look like that." But planting only two crops in an area year after year, it means that the bugs become more numerous, so farmers spray more, and the bugs develop resistance to the pesticides, and the vicious cycle continues. Naylor says, it's not necessarily good for the environment or the farmers or the consumers, but they have to do it. How did this happen?

Corporations industrialized livestock production, which took them off the farm and broke the natural cycle of nature. Farmers used to use livestock manure to increase crop fertility. Pollan said that today's manure from pig farms can't be used for farming because it's too concentrated and full of drugs. Plants and animals historically worked together in a symbiotic relationship on th farm -- like they do here on our farm. The goats poop in the pasture, which makes more grass grow! But in a factory farm "manure becomes a problem instead of a blessing." And with no animals making manure on the farm, farmers now need chemical fertilizers.

Sobering sound bites from Pollan are sprinkled throughout the film -- like -- the nutrition level of vegetables grown today is 40% less than it was in the 1950s. And then processed food has basically no nutrients, because it's been so over-processed. Pollan said, "Cheap food is an illusion. . . . You get what you pay for with food as with anything else." We pay through the environment, our health, and farm subsidies of corn and soybeans.

Just as I was starting to get depressed, Prof. John Ikerd, an ag professor says it's time to shift to a different paradigm, a different world view. Yes! Now we're taken to Joel Salatin's farm, Polyface, in Virginia. If you've read "Omnivore's Dilemma," you're probably quite familiar with Polyface. Now we get to see Salatin, wearing his "Grassfed" T-shirt, moving his eggmobiles to a new pasture and letting the hens out to forage. Salatin is not trying to replicate what his grandfather did. He's trying to replicate what animals do naturally. In nature, herbivores don't eat meat, but Big Ag feeds meat to cows, which is where mad cow disease came from. All the diseases in modern agriculture are nature's way of screaming at the industrialized system, Salatin says, and we need to look at nature and try to mimic that.

One of the most compelling stories came from pig farmer, Russ Kremer, from Frankenstein, Missouri, who went to college to study agriculture, and convinced his father to modernize their hog farm. "I got hung up on that, and you know what, it didn't work," Kremer said. Diseases increased among the pigs, and the use of antibiotics became a daily ritual. "It wasn't a very pleasant lifestyle." Then 15 years ago, a boar hog stabbed him in the leg with his tusk. Two weeks later, he had an antibiotic-resistant strep infection. He nearly died and realized that he had created a monster. "I realized I'm propagating this. My conscious really kicked in, and I said I can't do this anymore." He killed all of his pigs and started over with a free-range sustainable system. He hasn't used any antibiotics in 14 years, because he hasn't had any sick hogs.

Another inspiring story comes from Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee, which is a three acre urban farm that grows 150 varieties of salad greens and 4,000 tilapia whose waste feeds the plants. They compost about 6 millions pounds of food waste from the city each year. Allen said that food wholesalers throw away thousands of pounds of food every week, and "we're just scratching the surface."

This is where the documentary could have introduced the elephant in the room -- GM foods, a subject that is completely ignored in the film. Scientists claim that GM foods are necessary to feed the world. But if you've read much on this topic, you've read that we already grow enough food to feed everyone -- we just don't do a very good job of distributing it. When I attended the vermicomposting seminar in February, I heard the same thing from a speaker about how much food is wasted. He said he was once given an entire load of apples because they weren't shiny -- the produce manager of the grocery store said his customers wouldn't buy apples if they weren't shiny. At only 70 minutes, it would not have made the film overly long to add 15 or 20 minutes on GM foods, which we are all eating if we buy food from the supermarket.

I can't fault the film for anything that it included though. The farmers, scientists and other experts interviewed provided valuable information for us as consumers, and they really did their homework, making sure that everything was accurate. I especially like the fact that they sat down face-to-face with modern chicken farmers and asked them to explain their operation. It confirmed my suspicion that they have no idea that they're doing anything that is less than optimal. That is terribly sad. I hope they saw the film though and maybe realized that there is another way of doing things. I hope a lot of people see this film and realize that there is another way of doing things -- whether you're a farmer or a consumer.


Anonymous said...

With 300Million+ people in the US alone wouldn't it be a beautiful thing if we all could do without processed food. The beauty, the dream.

CSAs and Farmers' Markets in my part of the world are every bit as expensive, if not more, than buying in my local grocery.

Sorry as hard as I try some of us have to live where we do - the cities and the suburbs aren't going to empty out suddenly [moving to be able to grow their own food] to support a healthier lifestyle and as I said trying to eat healthier by buying local is cost prohibitive in a lot of cases.

What you do is admirable and I have to admit I am a bit jealous because I grew up with what you have now. For us? Now it is a three level town home with a 8x8 backyard, no sunlight and a deck that I can't grow anything on.

And if you have the argument we had a choice, actually we didn't. My first husband made sure where we lived. We had no choice. I tried to buy my grandparents' farm, but the courts/my ex made sure we couldn't. So - as dreamy as it would be to eat FRESH - sometimes constraints intervene and people can't.

What's a girl to do?

melanie said...

What's a girl to do? She can continue to be AWARE. That's important. Too many federal regulations get passed about the condition of our food with little or no publicity.

Speak out. Tell others about your desires to eat fresh, your efforts, and how you do your best to achieve what you can on a budget.

If farmers are going to fight the takeover of our food systems by industrialized, giant, people UN-FRIENDLY systems, we need all the voices we can get.

And while everyone is thinking about it...consider what is coming if the "economists" are wrong - we are not heading out of Depression (no euphemism of "recession" used here...) but are in it for a much longer haul. Controlling the production of your food in ANY small capacity may be one of the most important steps you take.

Bring a potted veggie plant to work - they do pretty well in artificial light and warmth - and give your co-workers a jolt...

Miss Effie said...

Anonymous -- I seriously disagree with you about eating healthy has to be more expensive than just buying at a grocery store.

I don't know where you live --but there isn't a pantry or freezer that I couldn't re-do and they would save a lot of money. But you will have to change the way you eat. No soda -- no frozen pizza -- no processed foods.

I bake bread everyday for less than 30 cents a loaf. Takes some rising time -- a half hour of baking. There is no fuss. And there is no bread at the grocery store that is 30 cents a loaf.

You can do it --- start with small steps. Listen to Deborah -- Melanie -- you don't need to be on a homestead to do this.

Fight the fight with us. We need your voice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. I haven't been able to see the film yet, and this is perhaps the most thorough review of it I've read.

Thanks for sharing it in today's Fight Back Fridays carnival!!

(AKA FoodRenegade)

Deborah Niemann said...

Anonymous -- I hope you can see "Fresh" because Will Allen is growing thousands of pounds of fresh produce in the middle of Milwaukee -- in greenhouses. His ideas can be downsized to an apartment, and there are lots of books available on growing food in the cities and in containers. The suburbs and cities don't need to empty out -- nor should they. I'll be posting soon about my plans for bringing my tomatoes inside when frost hits in October. And fresh alfalfa sprouts and bean sprouts can be grown on any kitchen counter. There are many little things you can do that will add up!

Michelle said...

I loved reading this conversation; thanks, ladies! I agree that there are many ways to economize and still eat FOOD, even if you live in a townhouse. One example: buy organic dried legumes. Even at a premium price, they will cook up for less per serving than cans of pre-cooked beans.

And Anonymous, you talk about what your first husband made you do -- past tense. Sounds like he's out of the picture, so start making new choices! It's never too late!

dina said...

Thanks so much for this review! I very much want to see Fresh, and am now even more anxious to do so!

I have to echo what others have said. We have friends who live down the way from us who live in - what my kids call TP houses, the kind where you can knock on the bathroom window next door from your own toilet and ask for a new roll of TP! - who have eliminated their grass. They've planted every last inch of their postage stamp sized plot with veggies - they spent a lot of time studying light and sun exposure to optimize their growing - it's been nothing short of phenomenal.

It can be done. But it does take determination, hard work, and a will to see it through.


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