NB: As you can imagine from watching a film like Food, Inc., it can be hard to separate the emotion and just report “calmly” on the plain facts presented by the film. Originally I wrote this the same day I saw it, but I’ve since gone back and edited it to try to tone down any hyperbole and direct overly excited discussion into a more readable analysis. I read a two-sentence review of the film on the weekend that amazed me for the way in which it was able to veil any of the emotional reaction of actually seeing it. It’s still in some theatres as I write, but this might be its last week. See the preview for it here.
Being financially successful depends upon a lot of things: earning more money, saving more money (or spending less), getting rid of the debt you had before you became financially educated, and gradually trying to do more of what you’re really passionate about (on the theory that if you do what you love, the money will follow). Another key factor in this quest, though less emphasized, is the very difficult job of eating well.
If you eat well, you’ll be healthier, more motivated and happy, better able to pursue your life’s work, will have less medical costs, and if you do it right, you’ll even be able to save a ton of money.
It’s all about leverage. We all know that raw fruits and vegetables provide the most nutrition and (I would argue) financial bang for their buck. In an ideal world, you would just eat fruits and vegetables (along with a few grains and beans), and that would be all you need. Recall Michael Pollan’s Eater’s Manifesto: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. It sums up nutrition in the same way that financial freedom can be reduced to earning more and spending less of it.
Whereas financial freedom is equated with true wealth in the sense of not having to work for someone else anymore and/or being able to live for the rest of your years without “working” at all, the equivalent concept in the domain of nutrition might be eating to live (not living to eat) or sustainability: not eating or taking or buying more than you need, but eating what will allow you to live the most (in the broad sense of living as healthily as possible for as long as possible).
The Relation Between Food, Inc., And Your Nutritional (and Financial) Freedom
Food, Inc. reveals, in a very civilized manner, the systemic industrial and cultural lack of sustainability in North America (strictly speaking, though, it only looked at the U.S. and minimally at Mexico).
It’s hard to say whether or not the problems it covers are well-known to most people, or even most college-educated people. One guy who sat beside me said he had been a vegan for 20 years already. Is this film just “preaching to the choir?” I’ve also been a vegetarian for 10 or so years, now. I did my research and made up my mind long ago about the problems and what I thought I could do to help (for my own health, if nothing else). But Food, Inc., isn’t about vegetarianism, the divide between eating plants only versus meat. It’s more about the divide between the consequences of eating meat that was killed compassionately and for the purposes of providing nutrition versus meat that was killed as part of mass-factory-systems which are run by multinational companies trying to make a profit.
As it turns out, it makes a big difference where your meat comes from. Since I don’t eat any, I haven’t really ever paid any attention to these distinctions. But choosing local, grass-fed and free-range cows and chickens for dinner makes a positive nutritional (and health) difference as well as a positive economic difference. The film goes into the intricacies in much more detail, of course, but here are some of the random take-away points I came home with.
- McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of beef and chicken in the U.S. (and by implication, therefore, the world)
- when McDonald’s wants to make a change, thus, farmers comply and the cattle suffer
- in order to get cheaper, fatter beef, cows have been taught/forced to eat corn rather than grass
- even salmon, which are carnivores by nature, have been engineered to eat corn instead
- the corn-feeding has caused a new type of e coli bacteria, the one that spread to spinach
- ammonia is regularly put into “hamburger filler” in order to keep e coli bacteria at bay
- chickens grown industrially never see sunlight for the whole of their two-month lives
- meat workers regularly lose their fingernails due to infections caused from the meat they touch
- industrial beef is less nutritionally dense than small-farm, organic beef
- state of Colorado makes it illegal to criticize their meat
- there are such things as “veggie libel” laws
- the industry can grow if people are kept in the dark about the way it works
- Monsanto’s bully-team of lawyers regularly forces farmers to comply and shut up
- most farmers are now providing more and more food for less and less compensation
And, just in time for this post, I learned of some E.coli found in Nestle’s refrigerated cookie dough. Nice. Basically, the conclusions it seems to me that any reasonable person could draw from what was shown in the film (and if you follow the events through to their consequences) is that:
1. The mass-meat-foods industry is the cause of most systemic health food and economic problems, such as fatty foods and worker’s rights. The desire for profitability causes a ripple effect all the way down the factory system. The nutritional quality of the meat goes down. Workers end up getting treated in the same way as the animals killed: replaceable, not worth anything in themselves. Not worthy of respect.
2. It is possible for consumers to cause change through the purchases they make. In fact, this is really going to be the only way “out” – that much is also clear. The reason the industry (i.e., the factory production of food) is alive and growing is largely due to most people not knowing a damn thing about it. I spoke with the girl selling me my ticket to the film – she seemed like an average college-educated young woman – and she was too afraid to see the film (yet I bet she went to see Saw and other perversities). If even educated people are too afraid to see it – well, that’s so convenient for the food producers! Trust me – I thought I knew what the film would be about, since I’ve done the research and reading previously, but it’s important to keep up to date. So much has changed just in the last ten years regarding how our “food” is made.
3. Solutions: buy organic; buy local (this saves on transportation and helps support a real economy rather than an inflated one) and buy the vegetables that are in season (for the same reasons). I used to think these choices were “luxuries” somehow – nice things to do, but which didn’t really have many consequences. Wow! They have serious consequences. Organic may be more expensive in some places, but organic isn’t just for your health! – it promotes sustainability, less suffering, and helps support many other positive changes within the food industry.
Although I personally think that meat-eating is never a good idea, it’s clear that it is at least a multitude of degrees better if people purchase grass-fed cows and free-range chickens. That one move, if everyone did it, would at least alleviate the suffering the animals go through while they live and it would also clean up much of the industry’s health and safety act. It’s better for everyone involved and it’s very possible to achieve.
The Food Economy Is the Basis of All Other Economies
I’m also worried about the consequences of the food industry’s practices going forward. One of the representatives interviewed in the film is the owner of Stonyfield Farm Organics. This guy, Sam Kaymen, started the company back in the early 80’s. It has taken him a good twenty-five, close to thirty years, to get his products accepted at a “mainstream” level, the pinnacle of which happened when Wal-Mart decided to take on his brand in their dairy section.
If it took almost 30 years for that one small change, and we’re still making documentaries to raise awareness about food practices that look as scary as they do today (with genetically re-engineered fish and chickens that die under the weight of their own breasts) – what on earth is it going to look like in another 20 years, as these companies continue to grow and effectively seek industry monopolies? Will we just have a few more organic or vegetarian restaurants, while all our food is patented and re-engineered with more undocumented consequences?
Since food is the basis of all life, and what we do everyday, it’s really the most fundamental economy around. Thus if positive changes are made within this most basic economy, it seems they could more easily flow upwards or outwards into others. If we stop eating fast food, it’s not just good for our personal health, but will help farmers, for one, have more choice about what to farm and how.
If we only focus on financial freedom, we’d be missing out on some other freedoms that aren’t so immediately obvious or derivative of having money, such as the freedom to eat real, nutritionally dense food. What’s the point of being financially free if you’re too unhealthy to enjoy it? Or, how good will that freedom feel if it’s been built from mutual funds that invest in McDonalds? I realize the last point is divisive and everyone has a different opinion on it, but this film has made up my mind. As consumers, we can’t be sending mixed signals to business. Having McDonald’s multiply represented in most large U.S. index funds, for example, is just yet another way in which these effects ripple throughout economies worldwide.
What do you think? Have you seen Food, Inc.? (Or read Michael Pollan, or Eric Schlosser?) Do you disagree with any of this – what part, and why? I’d love to hear what changes, if any you’ve made because of issues such as these – as well as how they’ve impacted your financial decisions.Related Posts
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