Last night I left the farm and drove into Manchester to see Food Inc. (which was wonderful) and engage in a group discussion about industrial food. Now, I knew I was going to the movies, but I had no idea when the film was over there would be a stay-in-you-seats discussion over local community action. There was. I love Vermont.
A local group call Manchester Town Transition hosted the post-film talk. The MC walked down the rows, mic in hand, asking about changes that could happen in our area to help solve the problem. I listened to local small farmers take turns talking about their issues: horror stories about trying to sell to grocery store chains, the struggle to get apathetic people involved in the town farmer's market. We passed around the microphone with ideas and talking points and when it got to me I had one question to ask the eager audience.
"How many people here have a garden?"
Everyone shot up their hands. We were preaching to the choir.
Not one of us needed to see this movie. It was like an evangelical popping in a praise-n-worship CD in a station wagon with the rest of the youth ministry. What we needed was to get our unsaved friends in the seat next to us. People who, unless handed the microscope, would never look that close into their cereal bowl. That's where you come in. Go see this movie and take someone who doesn't give a damn about corn.
The problem is that Americans have convinced themselves that cheap food, a seasonless selection, and endless variety are their rights instead of healthy food, in-season crops, and correct variety. Some folks say a local, organic diet is an elitist goal. Regular folks can't afford it. Listen, I'm not suggesting everyone shops at Whole Foods. That's ridiculous. What I am suggesting is we start caring a little more about the people stamping the quality seals on our bacon. Somehow our collective apathy has dulled our teeth on this matter--either we've bought the lie that eating whatever we want of lesser quality is a sign of progress, or perhaps we're just relieved we don't have to look the cow in the face before we smear ketchup on it. Either way, something's got to change.
Ask the average American if they'd rather buy feeding lot chicken that comes with a death warning than drive to a farmer's market down the block. Most will prefer the healthier option, but few actually choose it. One hilarious section of the movie interviewed a well known sustainable farmer who was almost shut down for processing his poultry outdoors near birds' pasture. So he sent a sampling of his stock and an equal sampling of chickens from the grocery store shelves to be tested for bacteria levels. His came back ridiculously healthier and his animals never went through chlorine baths snf packaging plant. It's how the animal is raised, son.
I understand that we have a world to feed. I understand how complicated this whole downer cow of an issue is. But it seemed to me that Food Inc. wasn't so much against industrial food as it was against the lack of regulation. The film didn't want everyone to boycott Kroger--they wanted you to change what's inside by voting with every purchase of healthier food. Buy local, organic, and do your best. Not everyone can afford this, but most of us can afford one local meal a week. Experts say if every American ate one meal within 100 miles of their home the food industry would be forced to change dramatically. Then organic food wouldn't be expensive, it'd be normal. Get some oats at the farmers' market and you've just eaten a breakfast that can change the world.
Let's be honest. Most people don't want to think about where their food comes from. They don't want to buy healthier meat for more money and eat less. It's not that they don't care about local farmers, poisoned peanut butter, and salmonella outbreaks. But more and more those types of events have become background noise on the evening news. Busy people have jobs, lives, and families to take care of. I get it. I have a job and mouths to feed, too. But I'll be damned if I'll sit back and watch the food my family eats hurt them. We may have our disagreements, even about blog posts like this, but they can count on me to produce meat, eggs, vegetables and energy that won't put them in the hospital.
We are what we eat. Let's be something better.
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