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 — not healthy food, in-season crops and reasonable variety. Some folks say a local organic diet is an elitist goal. That regular folks can't afford it. (Then you learn that only counts for organic pre-prepared meals. We'd rather watch TV than cook a meal together.) We've bought the lie that eating whatever we want of lesser quality is a good thing. Because it's easier. Because by eating industrial beef rather than local, we don't have to connect the cow with the burger.
This is scary to me. Really scary.
Ask the average American if they'd rather buy feed-lot chicken that comes with a death warning or drive to a farmers market down the block and pay a dollar more a pound for a free-range, disease-free bird. Most will prefer the healthier option, yet few choose it. One hilarious section of the movie interviewed a well known organic farmer who was almost shut down for processing his poultry outdoors near the fields they free range on. So he sent a large sampling of his stock and sampling of similar meat from the grocery store shelves to be tested for bacteria. The results showed that his stock was ridiculously healthier, and his animals never went through chlorine baths and a packaging plant. It's how the animal is raised, son.
I understand that we have a world to feed. The movie wasn't so much against industrial food as it was against the lack of regulation, safety standards and solid policy. The creators of Food Inc. aren't asking everyone to boycott the grocery store; they're asking you to change what's inside — by voting with every purchase for healthier food. Buy local, organic, and do your best. True, not everyone can afford an all-local diet, but most of us can afford one local meal a day. Experts say that if every American ate one meal sourced from within 100 miles of her home each week, the food industry would be forced to change dramatically. Then organic wouldn't be expensive, it would be normal.
Get some oats at the farmers market and you've just eaten a breakfast that can change the world.
The base problem is 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 it less. They don't care about local farmers, or that poisoned peanut butter and salmonella outbreaks have become nothing more than background noise on the evening news. They have jobs, lives and families to take care of. I get it. I have a job, 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.
You are what you eat. Be something better.