Because I have been involved in the raising and selling of food,a couple of people have asked me my opinion about the movie Food,inc, which is now available from Netflix as a streaming video. I watched the movie recently, or most of it. I got bored once and left it stream for a few minutes and got annoyed once and left again. At the same time, I have been reading some excellent posts by Pastor Douglas Wilson on food, which can be accessed at his site.
I do not dispute many of the facts in the Movie. A few big multinational corporations have a stranglehold on large parts of the food system. I enjoy the fact that the film scared those large companies enough that they feel the need to spend money responding. I believe that genetic modification of food is genuinely dangerous to human and animal health.
My dislike of the film is a profound disagreement with every one of the "solutions" offered, which included (1)more regulations and inspections,(2)Joel Salatin, and(3) consumers demanding more organic food choices.
There was a very telling statistic at one point in the film that alluded to the decline in USDA inspections. I have a suspicion that this decline is due in part to a decline in facilities to inspect. Twenty years ago, there was a small slaughterhouse and meat cutter 4 miles from here. Thirty years ago, there were 3 slaughterhouses in the same radius. At least one went out of business rather than spend the money and annoyance in keeping up with ever changing regulations. These regulations were not a necessary guarantee for the safety and health of meat. The only guarantee of that is the honor of the butcher.
I once sold a lamb to a man from Lebanon. He arrived on a July day to kill and cut it up on the farm. July is not normal Pennsylvania butchering season, due to the warm weather. He used a sharp knife and cut the lamb's throat. After it bled out, I hoisted with a crane from the tractor. He cut it up in about 40 minutes. Some parts would be eaten raw as "kibbi nayeef", definately not USDA approved cooking. He worked carefully and quickly without any of the stainless steel surfaces, cooling or other paraphernalia required for USDA slaughter. The meat was safe and clean. It had to be, as his family depended on it.
The local meat cutters once knew their customers nearly as intimately as that man. If they made anyone sick, they actually had to face his family. Most were also craftsmen, and took pride in what they did. Many of the increased regulations were developed by the revolving door corporate agribusiness/government officials. Whther by purpose or design, the effect of the regulations was to drive out the local option.
I have never met Joel Salatin. I did read several of his books. The first ones I read were borrowed from a farmer who adopted many of his approaches and lost his farm. Mr. Salatin is a bright guy and has developed some interesting innovations.I find most compelling his book and earlier essay "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal" which touches on the point above and was NOT adequately addressed in the movie. As compelling a character as he is, his particular location and circumstances are not automatically transferable to every region of the country. They work great for farmers within a couple hours of drive a very large and wealthy metro area. Mr. Salatin is also an entrepreneurial huckster (I use this term with genuine affection), and I suspect his promotion of books, videos, paid farm tours, and speaking engagement fees helps make the mortgage. My wife once correctly remarked that he is a modern version of Frank Perdue (another likeable huckster).
Finally, consumers making demands to Walmart or Whole Foods is not a long term solution to the nation's food safety problems. The revolving door corporate government bureaucrats of the emerging servile state have the ability to control the definitions and parameters of "safe". For example,the definition of "organic", is now a legal term, and changes with the needs of business. Advertising can also create powerful subliminal messages, which the movie began with. Beyond this legal/regulatory/sales talk jungle, it is also no real assurance of safety or "cruelty free food". Some large feed lots have adopted the revolutionary humane handling systems of Dr. Temple Grandin (as a means of economic self interest). Some of the cruelest, most genuinely wicked livestock handlers I have ever seen are family scale Amish farmers.
The idea of "consumer action" strikes at the heart of the flaw in Food, Inc. The consumer is by necessity a victim. He must buy what he wants to eat. He has chosen freedom from toil in exchange for control of his own food safety. The lower the consumer's skill level; the greater the victimhood. Increasingly in American society dinner means food that has already been cooked, or made as ready to cook as possible. Every step in the chain from the cow to the hamburger, or the grain of wheat to the noodle in the Hamburger Helper package increase the danger through complexity of development. The consumer can only avoid this by becoming a producer. This does not mean that everyone need raise all their own food. Production can start in the kitchen (learning to actually cook, rather than "heat and eat"), move to the pantry (learning to can,freeze,dry and otherwise preserve), then the garden. For some, it might then move to the barnyard, even if the barnyard is only three chickens and a meat rabbit pen in a suburban backyard. While this takes skills and represents hard work, it is also satisfying. Were this to happen, it would also solve many dangers to the food system by reducing the systems current complexity.
Part Two will follow soon, unless I have a heart attack from the GMO corn chips and cheese whiz I ate tonight.