Food, Inc.

In Tampa last week, I saw the movie “Food, Inc.” at the Tampa Theatre.  The film made me feel sick to my stomach. After seeing it, I don’t want to eat anything ever again. Sort of like I don’t want to /buy/ anything ever again. Of course, I -will- eat, and I -will- shop, but I’m guilt-ridden about it. Food, Inc., was produced by Eric Schlosser, of Fast Food Nation fame.  The film is about corporate farming, the food industry, and its effects on animals, humans, and then environment. I learned some harrowing things about the food industry by watching this film. For instance,

1. Farmers no longer own their seeds. Seeds are now intellectual property owned by genetic engineering corporations. Farmers who do not use corporate seeds can be sued if any genetically engineered seeds end up in their crops. Seeds travel. It’s inevitable. Nonetheless, small farmers are held responsible and driven out of business if any corporate seeds are on their farms. One small business owner, a man who has a machine that “cleans” seeds so that they can be planted for new crops, was sued by Monsanto because his business “encouraged” farmers to steal intellectual property. A couple of weeks ago, I was debating with friends over whether or not Google or Amazon was Skynet. Now I believe it is Monsanto.

2. Corporate meat companies recruit undocumented workers. Intentionally. NAFTA and the US corn industry drove Mexican corn farmers out of business and into poverty. Now, the meat companies drive buses down to Mexico to hire Mexicans, and then bring them back to the US to work in meat packing plants and slaughterhouses. They even have agreements with the local INS to keep arrests and deportations down to 15 people per day so that production in the plants is not affected.

3. Many well-known small “whole foods” type companies are now owned by megacorpsTom’s of Maine, a toothpaste company that has been around the health food world since 1970, is owned by Colgate.  Kashi is owned by Kellogg’s.  In one scene in the movie, the viewers are taken to a food expo and the commentator talks about how the natural foods “industry” has grown by leaps and bounds, how it’s becoming mainstream, and how major corporations now own many of these products. This is one of those is the glass half-full/half-empty moments for me. On the one hand, the corporatization of health food, with health food companies selling out to capitalism is just depressing. On the other hand, isn’t that what we want? To change the global economy so that it is healthier, safer, eco-friendly, and non-exploitative? Non-exploitative capitalism is an oxymoron, though. Is it even possible?

4. Walmart is a game changer. Walmart is the root of all evil. I know this and yet I shop there instead of Whole Foods, thereby contributing to mass exploitation of laborers and the environment. I have struggled with this for years. In the end, I can afford Walmart. Of course, if I consumed less unnecessary junk in my life, I could afford Whole Foods. It’s a vicious circle. Enough of my Walmart liberal guilt. Walmart has been “going green.” It sells more and more organic food, it tries to promote sustainability, it is forcing its suppliers to use green packaging, they are forcing suppliers to label their products according to a “green” rating system or “eco-indexing” that shows a product’s carbon footprint. Some people call this “greenwashing,” a machiavellian PR campaign to polish its corporate image vis-a-vis its labor practices. Again, it’s a depressing half-full/half-empty thing. The yogurt company representative interviewed in the film reflects with great excitement on the positive impact that Walmart’s practices will have on the environment even though he recognizes that, in some ways, he’s selling out.

5. Corn is everything. 90% of the food we buy from the grocery store has some form of corn in it. Corn is even in batteries. High fructose corn syrup, yeah, that one’s obvious. But batteries? Disposable diapers? Half those weird words on your food labels are corn derivatives. Maltodextrin, dextrin, dextroseAlcohol, vinegar, ascorbic, lactic, and citric acid. Salt and postage stamps have corn in it. Yes! Cows and other animals are now fed corn instead of being allowed to graze on grass, which causes all sorts of health problems for the animals and food problems for those of us who eat the animals. Corn is even fed to farm raised catfish and tilapia! Ok, so why is this a problem? Growing corn leaves a huge carbon footprint, the high fructose corn syrup in /everything/ we eat and drink leads to obesity and other health problems, the government-subsidized over-production of cheap corn by agribusiness in the US puts corn farmers around the world out of business, corn growers own Washington through lobbies and government appointments, and so on and so on. It’s a huge maze of money and politics that ultimately hurts us and the environment.

6. The FDA sucks. Filled with political appointments and gutted by legal rulings that favor agribusiness, the FDA has no teeth and supports corporate farming.  The rules that agribusiness uses to keep their food safe are protected from public disclosure because they are considered to be intellectual property. Also, FDA regulations are a mixed bag. They tend to support the labeling and safety procedures favored by agribusiness (that in the end don’t really keep food safe), while they also jeopardize the success of small, organic, local farmers. In addition, when it comes to enforcing food safety regulations, the FDA has no power. They can’t shut down slaughterhouses infected with e coli, for instance.

7. Cloned meat and products from cloned animals (eggs, milk, cheese) is a reality. It’s also unregulated and unlabeled. Food, Inc. features hearings in the California legislature regarding a requirement that cloned meat be labeled as such (which, by the way, the FDA does not require). The witness representing the meat industry argued against labeling because it would unnecessarily “panic” the public. The bill passed, but Schwarzenegger vetoed it.

In all, I found this movie overwhelming. Both the film and the website make suggestions for change. I am definitely doing the “meatless Monday” idea, which is simply giving up meat one day a week.  E-petitions are available on the website. In the end, though, I just feel hopelessly sucked up and absorbed by yet another dimension of global capitalism. Every bite does count, though. That is probably the biggest “take-away” from the film.

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