Watched the Documentary “Food Fight” (131/366)

“We have power here …. We just have to vote with our forks.  We get three votes a day … if one of them a day is done in consciousness with an eye toward the land, the farmer, the animal, we will have done something important.”
~ Michael Pollan

First of all, if you haven’t seen the movie “Food, Inc.” you need to watch it before watching anything else in the world.  You definitely need to watch it before you eat your next meal.  It’s a documentary about the United States’ food industry and how it is shaping what we all eat … and how we can and need to change it.

Food Fight” is a film that delves into a more specific part of the US food supply and talks more about what we can do locally to affect change in our country, how we can daily be sure we are getting the best food possible, and it also explains how the main United States food source became what it is today.

During the Great Depression, farmers were producing plenty of food, but no one could afford to buy it.  So under the US farm bill, the government paid farmers not to grow so many crops (in an effort to help support small farms).

After World War II, new chemicals lead to bigger harvests, and the government switched gears to encourage HUGE farms (which was the opposite of before, and very bad for small farmers).  Everything was industrialized, including crops and livestock.  Food began to have no taste, and it also began to lose its nutritional value.

During WWII, food wasn’t just food – it was national defense.  War & agriculture have connections.  Soldiers were malnourished, so the army came up with ways to get food to soldiers overseas – dehydration, flash-freezing, and lightweight packaging were developed.  The focus, understandably, was on calories, not taste (and not even necessarily quality).

Chemicals that were used in the war lead to developments in fertilizer, and Big Agriculture exploded.  Petroleum is/was used heavily in farming (crop dusting, tractors, other farm machinery).

How farms changed from 1950-2000:
Average bushels of corn per acre: from 39 – 153
Average lbs. milk per cow: from 5314 – 18,201
Today, farmers are producing about 6,000 calories per person, per day (and we should only be eating about 2,000 calories per person, per day).

Because of this boom in production of food, there was a need to do something with all the cheap commodities, and since women were wanting to work after the war, there was also a big need for convenience.  Convenience food was born!  Push button flavor!  People were taught that cooking was drudgery, and American families moved away from quality meals at home.

Today, the quality of our food is measured by how it will ship rather than how it tastes.  Tomatoes are picked green, not ripe, so they can withstand shipment (then are gassed to turn red).  They do not have the same flavor as a real, fresh-picked ripe tomato from a natural garden.  Industrial agriculture has ruined the quality of American produce.

In the 60’s, there began a movement of “The personal is political.”  How you lived and how you ate was a political statement.  People wanted to change in all the facets of their daily lives.  They started small farms and grew their own food.  There was an understanding that industrial agriculture was a part of the military industrial conquest.  Direct correlations were made between companies benefiting from the war and benefiting from industrial agriculture and poisoning America’s farm fields.

Monsanto was the maker of Agent OrangeDow Chemicals made napalm and other war chemicals.  These are still very powerful business empires today, and they are very heavily involved in the US food industry.

Alice Waters began feeding people who were holed up on the Berkeley campus instead of them giving their money to the big food corporations.  She wanted it to be a place where people would gather with good, healthy food and talk about ideas for better living.  She pulled in people and educated them about the connections between their food and voting with their dollars in the US food industry.  Chez Panisse was opened to be a place where people could come and talk about their lives and become something bigger than just a restaurant.  Jeremiah Tower joined the restaurant team and was a gourmet.  He introduced recipes that literally had not been seen before in the US.  They began a “California Regional Dinner” menu that featured ingredients all from Northern California, termed them as local, and shared where these ingredients came from.

Before Earl Butz became the head of the US Department of Agriculture, the goal of the Federal Food Policy was careful management of supply and demand.  During the time Butz was head, the policy became making the farming industry one of profit.  The policy was to go big – leave no space un-farmed.  In 1935 the average farm was about 155 acres.  In 2002, the average farm grew to 441 Acres.  The mantra was, “Grow as much as you can, and we’ll figure out how to sell it.”

The people who profited were not the farmers – it was those who could buy the crops in bulk at a cheap price and process it into something else.  There grew a seemingly endless variety of products that were just reiterations of cheap corn and soy.  There was footage in the documentary of lots of old commercials touting these new “foods” as ingenious creations by our country’s brilliant engineering minds.  There was even a commercial featuring a new “cheese” made with corn oil.  Government subsidies paid (and continue to pay) for these items.

From 1971 to 2006, the percentage of personal income spent on food has gone down.  In same time period, the amount of money spent on health care has gone up.  We’re spending money that we used to spend on good, quality, healthy food on medical care due in large part to the chemical-laden, mass-produced, cheap “food” we’ve been eating for the past 50+ years.

“California Cuisine” at its birth was simply local, fresh, and seasonal.  It’s now moved East and other places (and no longer called “California Cuisine”).  Chez Panisse helped to begin a new food economy outside of the “normal” distribution.  All of the sudden, if you could grow quality items on 30 acres, you could make almost as much money as the big farms.  High profile chefs refocused on the local farmer.  Farmers’ markets allow farmers to recapture more of the food dollar.  It gets them out of the commodity market, of selling an undifferentiated commodity, that’s going into a huge pile with everybody else’s potatoes or milk, and connecting them directly with the end user (the eater – US!).

Unfortunately, the US Government is still stuck in the old Farm Bill rut.  Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin says that 70% of agricultural subsidies are going to the 10% that are the largest producers, and that “specialty crops” –  real food – gets no subsidies at all.  State politicians that have taken over the major senate and house farm committees are on the payroll of the large farming interests in their states.

The CDC has said that of the children born in the year 2000, 1 out of every 3 Caucasians and 1 out of every 2 African Americans and Latinos will develop diabetes in their life, and most before they are out of high school.  These kids born in 2000 will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

There is a handful of political activists are stepping up to make good quality, healthy food more available:
Growing Power, Inc. is an organization that strives to help communities get back to growing their own food instead of being slaves to the US food industry.
The Edible Schoolyard Project is a program teaching kids about real food – how it’s grown, how to prepare it, and how important these two things are to growing not only a healthy body, but a healthier country.

Along with supporting organizations like these, the documentary also reminds us that every day we are voting with our dollars, and that we have a choice between spending money on cheap foods that are bad for us, and spending money on high-quality, healthy foods.  It also points out that these foods do not have to come from our local grocery store – even buying “organic” at your local chain store is not as good as growing your own vegetables – and you don’t need acres of land to grow a small garden!

“Social activism does not need to be going out into the middle of the street and banging on a drum, social activism can be making a good meal.”  ~ David Goines

Related Links:
Food Fight (Amazon Instant Download)
Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill (Paperback)

Leave A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.