Monday, August 10, 2009

Think Globally, Eat Locally

So last night Stephen and I went to see the other “foodie” film that opened in Alabama this weekend, Food Inc. The film looks at the business of large-scale agricultural food production (“farming”) in the United States, and the effects it has on the product (chicken, beef, pork and produce), the environment, and the consumer (you and me). Currently, there are a handful of HUGE multi-national corporations (Tyson, ConAgra, Smithfield, Monsanto, etc.) that dictate what we eat, and how it is grown and/or processed. You would hope the USDA and other regulatory agencies would do their best to protect the American public from potentially dangerous food productions methods (all in the name of efficiency and/or profits), but viewers find out that most of our government officials have ties (BIG SURPRISE) to the BILLION dollar companies they are supposed to regulate (that’s what we in the accounting industry would call an impairment of independence).

The film consists of interviews and “behind the scenes” footage from various food-processing facilities in the U.S (depressing, but not vomit-inducing). One of the most interesting characters of the film was a farmer named Joel Salatin (Polyface Farms), who apparently is a “celebrity” among the sustainable farming movement. The self-described "Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist farmer" has written a handful of books, and according to Wikipedia, spends a hundred days a year lecturing to colleges and other environmental groups. Listening to Joel gives you hope for the future of food and also makes you want to quit your day job and become a farmer (Oh, to only have 500+ acres of farm land in your family!!).

Watching a film like this sure can leave you depressed, but luckily Food Inc. give you some ideas of how YOU can make a difference (remember, we vote with our wallet and mouth three times a day). I wish I could have written them all down, but I know they say you can/should support your local Farmer’s markets and plant a garden. Other ways to get involved are found here.

After the film , Andy Grace (Eating Alabama) led a panel discussion that included Edwin Marty (Jones Valley Urban Farm), Sara Fuller Brown (Fig Leaf Farm), David Snow (Snow’s Bend), and Jean Mills (Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group).

Someone in the audience asked about the requirements for labeling food as “organic.” Most of the panel agreed that those requirements (documents that number in the hundreds of pages) were too complicated to summarize, but that consumers should focus more on eating “locally” and getting to know your farmers or other food providers. They also noted that most small farms do not have the resources to pay the licensing fees and other related costs it takes to be labeled “organic.” I asked the panel if consumers could assume farmer’s markets do a good job of “self-policing” themselves to ensure that each vendor is supplying the “good” food that we need to be eating. Sadly, they said YOU have to ask the questions and inform yourself, because not all farmers are created equally (for instance, sometimes farms will buy produce from others, just to pass it off as their own).

So, the big question is, did I do anything different today for lunch? No.

Will I visit Pepper Place or Finley Avenue this weekend? Yes.

Food Inc. is showing at the Bama Theatre in Tuscaloosa through Wednesday, August 12th.

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