Saturday, February 13, 2010

Land of Plenty

Tomorrow, I’ll head to a Sunday market in East Austin that keeps the hours 11am-3pm. Do they know about me and my weekend mornings sleeping in?

After visiting the museum last night, we rented Food, Inc. At the video store, Chris said, “You're SURE you want to watch this? It might change the way you think about food for the rest of your life. And you like food.”

Among many vital questions, the documentary poses this one:  Shouldn't we, in the US, strive to make a bunch of fresh carrots or a dozen eggs, more affordable than a bag of chips? I found myself struggling again with the relationship between nutritionally-dense, healthfully-farmed food and its affordability to the masses (as opposed to double-income, no-kid couples, etc.). The end of the film included a "What you can do now" list that suggested:  shop at farmers markets. Farmers markets that accept food stamps. 

I remembered living in Baton Rouge and shopping at Calandro's, one of the few truly local grocers in town (not to mention one of the oldest). On the one hand, Calandro's prided itself for being locally owned and for stocking an apt selection of Louisiana-grown and packaged products. On the other hand, I used to nearly get hives standing in the check out line where, staring me in the face, there were signs stating that WIC and other food subsidies are not accepted [read: Poor people, you are not welcome]. Was I to feel pride for supporting this local business, or contempt toward this establishment and myself as a consumer? 

I've noticed that the Austin Farmers Market accepts food stamps, and the Red Stick Farmers Market, to their many credits, also welcomes patronage by human beings who rely on food subsidies. Watching the film, I wondered what the hell is wrong with us as Americans for feeling disdain toward government subsidies that aid individuals for basic necessities such as food, when the government is systematically and grossly subsidizing major corporations that utilize these subsidies to mechanize the production of food to the point that it is no longer nutritious sustenance, but merely a set of objects that possess the visual likeness of actual produce and actual meat. 

The film was informative and thought provoking, and it left me with some questions. For instance, where do the likes of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and Fresh Market fit into this efficiency-driven model of food production? The interview with Gary Hirshberg, the Stonyfield Farms founder and CEO, began to chip at this subject, but in no way did it offer an answer. FYI, most  big brand organic products readily available for purchase today - Kashi, Stonyfield Farms, Gardenburger, and others, have been acquired by corporations like Kraft, Kellogg, General Mills, Heinz. When Hirshberg was asked whether these organic producers can maintain their "soul," their commitment to healthful and responsible food production, he answered, dimly, that the verdict is still out.

While I slept, I dreamed that my body had become swollen and yellow because I consumed more corn than I could handle. I also dreamed that I opened a bag of Ruby and Basil’s dog food, and it too was filled with corn kernels. When I woke up, Chris asked, “Do you want to go by some Tyson chicken?” No Thank You.

I have sufficient motivation to make it to the East Side slacker market tomorrow. I also now have sufficient motivation to familiarize myself with every chicken, hog and cattle farm in my vicinity, as well as with the methods by which I can purchase animal products from humane, organic and clean growers. Corporate meat, again, No Thank You.

Consider this my emphatic recommendation to rent this movie: A small part of me did not want to watch Food, Inc., but the part of me that won out is the larger part that believes ignorance by choice is inexcusable.

I am leaving you with two New York Times articles on the subject of food subsidies use by families in the United States today. I hope you will take a moment to read them and contemplate their relevance to your own lives. Here is the first, published in 2008. Here is the second, published just after Thanksgiving last year.

*I pulled the posted photo from the official Food Inc. website, to which I have linked above.


  1. Have you read In Defense of Food and/or The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan? I highly recommend them both, as he dives into some of your questions. I loved reading them both. Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -- also a totally good book in this area. I read all of these before Food, Inc. and then when I saw the movie it was like it was just a simplified version of what the books talk about. Not that it's not good, but it just skims the surface of what books are able to delve more deeply into. How about that grammar! Let me know which of these you haven't read, if any, and I am going to change my mind about your (very late) birthday present!

  2. I've read Omnivore's Dilemma and another of his books (The Secret Life of Plants?) a long time ago, but not the first. I haven't read that Kingsolver book yet. I agree that the movie really just skims the surface!