A mild rant

9 Dec

I watched Food, Inc. last night.   No real new information, though I was surprised to learn about libel laws relating to food products.  Whatever happened to free speech?  I think I’ll say I won’t eat hamburger/corn syrup/Smithfield pork, etc if I damn well please.  So sue me.

I though the movie was a little propaganda-y, what with the ominous music and hidden cameras, though I don’t disagree with its conclusions.

After hearing about Monsanto’s campaign to monopolize agriculture, I was heartened today to read about a victory for rice farmers over GM crops.  Bayer CropScience was testing GM rice, and some of it made its way to neighboring farms, tainting crops and costing farmers millions of dollars in lost revenue (many countries don’t want GM products – what’s wrong with us?).  I fear it will be cold day in hell before such as judgment is rendered against Monsanto.

I read an article in the Washington Post this week.  The author tells us to quit “going green” – we’re wasting our time.  The only real change will happen if everyone is compelled – through legislation – to make significant changes. I’m not going to stop recycling, but I think the same concept applies to food.  A minority can choose organic/sustainable/local foods, and make a small difference in individual diets.  Or the government can end corn subsidies to agribusiness, and we can all eat better.

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3 Responses to “A mild rant”

  1. Dad December 10, 2009 at 9:14 pm #

    The fact is that there is no significant prospect for change in the agriculture and food industries, or in peoples’ self-destructive eating patterns.

    The starting point is that humans are genetically programmed to eat those food elements that–in excess–are harmful. We are attracted to meat-based protein, fats, sugars, and salt because they are–in small quantities–necessary for good health. During the long period of human evolution, these were scarce, so humans developed a biologically-based desire for them. Then, indeed, all food was scarce and people were often hungry, but also were able to thrive on much smaller food volumes than we eat today. Obesity is virtually unknown among past and present hunter-gatherer peoples–there just wasn’t enough food to support it. Additionally, they were of course very active and had an overall more healthy diet: the so-called “cavemen’s diet.”

    Agriculture was in some ways a disaster for healthy eating. It allowed food surpluses, which in turn supported large population growth and–for some people–sedentary life styles. Since then, agriculture-enabled population growth has been a permanently destructive force. First, the increasing demand for cropland results in increasing devastation of natural biomes, with resultant environmental and climatic harm. Second, we continue to eat large quantities of meat–much larger quantities than we biologically need. This leads to the environmentally and nutritionally disastrous consequences of large-scale meat production and consumption, not to mention the moral dilemmas of food animal production.

    Now, the world’s population–driven by the availability of agriculturally produced food–is so large that it we are destroying our environment. Large-scale mechanized food production is necessary to produce enough food for six billion people and, as population grows, more environmental damage will occur and more mechanized food production will be needed.

    So, why don’t we reverse these horrible trends? We lack the foresight, the will, and the knowledge to do so. On an individual level, look at the obesity epidemic. There are life-saving and life-enhancing reasons for a person to limit his food intake and improve its quality. Why, then, do most of us grossly overeat, especially meat-based protein, fats, starches,and sugars? It’s because we’re self-indulgent, lazy, weak, and ignorant. Multiply these characteristics across whole societies, and you get powerful agriculture and food industries that shape laws, policies, and habits. You get rampant population growth, especially in less developed societies that are least equipped to deal with it.

    Yes, there are individuals who eat well and modestly. There is the movement to use locally produced and environmentally sustainable food (including relatively less cruel methods of meat production). But these are boutique practices, too small to do more than benefit their few practitioners. These movements will spread, but probably not far or fast enough to achieve large, world-scale change.

    The best we can hope for is for bad food practices to reach the status of smoking. Not that long ago, smoking was widespread and socially acceptable. Now it’s widely banned and ostracized, and the numbers of smokers have contracted (but are still sizable). Still, I don’t think this will happen extensively with food, because it’s even closer to our biological necessity than addictive substances, and thus harder to change. Not a promising outlook, but realistic.

  2. Sandy Doggett December 10, 2009 at 9:27 pm #

    Kate,
    Maurice and I saw Food, Inc. last summer. We haven’t eaten any meat since then. It cured me of wanting to eat meat. We had read the Omnivore’s Dilemna and Pollan’s other book too. But seeing the way meat is slaughtered in the US was very unappetizing.
    I disagree with the WaPo article. I don’t have much power over Congress, but I can change my lifestyle in small ways: recycling, gardening, use the clothes line, avoid meat from the CAFO, change the light bulbs, drive a hybrid, etc. But the article did make me see that I need to needle congress to make laws as well.
    I thought it was a powerful movie and I would like to watch it again.

  3. Elissa Pugh March 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    I’m excited that you linked to the Tidwell article. Someone told me about it (or a similar article) awhile back and I’ve been searching in vain for it.

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